During 2012, virtually every aspect of American life was subjected to government meddling, ranging from how many calories you consume to how efficient your dishwasher is.
These rules affect us in a variety of ways. Most increase the cost of living, others hinder job creation, and many erode our freedom.
Not all regulations are unwarranted, of course. But increasingly, the rules imposed upon us by the government have less to do with health and safety and more to do with lifestyle — substituting the judgment of bureaucrats for our own.
Which are the worst? There is no objective standard to measure such things, but here is our own take on 2012's bottom 10:
10. Mortgaging the Future: New mortgage disclosure rules were released in July by the newly-created Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, with a stated goal of simplifying home loans. The rules run an astonishing 1,099 pages. The net result of this and similar rules? Fewer consumer mortgage lending options and increased costs.
9. Tracking Your Travels: In December, the Department of Transportation proposed that electronic data recorders, popularly known as “black boxes,” be required in most cars starting in 2014. The stated goal is to collect more information about car accidents. But this spooks privacy advocates, who warn that federal bureaucrats could misuse this information.
8. Essential Choice Cutbacks: Under the Obamacare “essential benefits” rule, health insurers will be forced to cover health care services, that the government deems essential, whether you want to buy them or not. The net result will be to increase health care costs, increasing the burden on consumers, employers and taxpayers.
7. Instant Union: In April, the National Labor Relations Board issued new rules that shorten the time allowed for union-organizing elections to between 10 and 21 days. This leaves little time for employees to make a fully informed choice on unionizing, threatening to leave workers and management alike under unwanted union regimes.
6. Don't Let Them Eat Cake: The Department of Agriculture in January published detailed new nutrition standards for school lunch and breakfast programs. More than 98,000 elementary and secondary schools are affected — at a cost exceeding $3.4 billion over the next four years. The new rules sparked protests, and even a few hunger strikes, from students nationwide.
5. Cleaned Out: Regulators admit that the new Energy Department rules governing dishwashers will do little to improve the environment. Rather, proponents claim they will save consumers money. But they will also increase the price of dishwashers, and only about one in six consumers will keep their dishwasher long enough to recoup the cost.
4. Soda Socialism: On Sept.13, at the behest of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the New York Board of Health banned the sale of soda and other sweetened drinks in containers larger than 16 ounces. New Yorkers apparently are still allowed refills, at least for now. No word on how many NYC cops will be moved from crime prevention to monitor the city's soda fountains.
3. Sticker Shock: Adopted in August, these new automobile mileage rules require a whopping average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Sticker prices will jump by hundreds of dollars. Regulators argue that the fuel savings will make up these costs. Whether consumers want to make such a tradeoff doesn't matter. The government has decided for them.
2. Increasing Energy Costs: The Environmental Protection Agency in February finalized strict new emissions standards for coal- and oil-fired electric utilities. The benefits are highly questionable, with the vast majority being unrelated to the emissions targeted by the regulation. The costs, unfortunately, are certain: estimated to be $9.6 billion annually. The regulations are likely to undermine energy reliability and raise energy costs across the entire economy.
1. Conscience Denial: The Department of Health and Human Services on Feb. 15 finalized its mandate that all health insurance plans include coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization procedures, and contraceptives. The mandate allows no exception for church-affiliated schools, hospitals and charities whose religious principles conflict with the mandate. To date, 42 lawsuits representing more than 110 plaintiffs have been filed challenging this restriction on religious liberty as a violation of First Amendment.
As busy as regulators were in 2012, don't look for them to rest next year. Already in the pipeline are dozens of new rules covering health care, finance, global warming and more. It is anybody's guess who will win next year's prize. The only safe bet is that consumers will lose.
Diane Katz and James Gattuso are research fellows in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation.