It may be hard to imagine, but by this time next year the people who work day and night putting out the Federal Register could have a lot of free time on their hands.
That is at least one of the possible changes affecting regulatory policy if Ronald Reagan is elected president.
For this year's Republican platform calls for a "temporary moratorium" on all new federal regulations that "diminish the supply of goods and services and add significantly to inflation." By some standards, that could apply to a great deal of federal regulation and therefore reduce the size of the daily register, which now runs to thousands of pages each year.
Although imposing such a program apparently would require the passage of legislation by what most observers predict still will be a Democratic Congress, the idea is worth looking at because it is one of the Grand Old Party's few clearcut regulatory policy ideas and potentially the most sweeping "regulatory reform" proposal to be found in Republican and Reagan campaign literature.
A campaign policy statement on regulation offers only a glimpse of what a Reagan administration might have in mind and some of those ideas are neither new nor Republican. One thing, however, is clear: Zealous government regulators ought to beware. For instance, that policy statement calls for establishing a "sunset" procedure for all regulations "with substantial impact," even though a "sunset" plan for all federal programs was first proposed by Democrats in Congress, and recommends that Congress be given "veto power over all federal regulations."
Philosophically, there is no doubt that Reagan -- who just this week said he hoped to "get rid of several thousand" of what he views as unnecessary regulations concerning the auto industry -- and his fellow conservatives think little of federal regulation. The Reagan campaign statement on the subject leaves little doubt about that.
"Federal regulation has grown inexorably over the past decade, leading to a massive federal bureaucracy that is subject to neither the Congress nor the voters," the statement said. "Such regulation now costs consumers about $120 million per year, according to regulation expert Murray Weidenbaum."
The use of Weidenbaum and his hotly controversial regulatory cost figures also should come as no surprise because the former Treasury assistant secretary is considered the source of much of the Republican's premises about regulation. In fact, Weidenbaum is part of Reagan's newly appointed economic team, and the preface for the latest edition of the economist's book, "The Future of Business Regulation," says such a moratorium is just what the country needs. "The American economy has been subjected to so much regulation in recent years that a breather would be most welcome," Weidenbaum wrote. "It would enable companies and communities alike to digest and respond to those onerous requirements."
Weidenbaum noted, however, that "emergency" regulations inevitably will be sought in the areas of health and safety. To handle such a possibility, Weidenbaum suggested that a "proviso" be added to the moratorium permitting new regulations of that kind only if they are "offset by the elimination of regulations of at least equal cost and burden."
In other words, if economists say that a particular health and safety rule would cost an economic sector $50 million, another regulation which is said to cost about the same would have to be wiped off the books.
In addition to the moratorium the Republican platform proposes deregulation in a host of areas ranging from immediate decontrol of the price of oil and gas at the wellhead (a key Reagan energy plank) to elimination of the 55-mile-an-hour speed limit to the Republican platform's less-known support of some form of communications deregulation, now a congressional hot potato.
"Where possible, we favor deregulation, especially in the energy, transportation and communications industries," the platform says. "We believe that the marketplace, rather than bureaucrats, should regulate management decisions."
Sounding much like the bipartisan supporters of the regulatory reform legislation lagging in Congress, the Republicans also propose requiring agencies to review existing regulations and eliminate those that are "outmoded, duplicative or contradictory" and enforcing agencies to conduct cost-benefit analyses of new major regulations.
Further, the platform endorses often-suggested legislation that never has gotten anywhere in Congress that would "provide restitution to those who have been wrongfully injured by agency actions."
Finally, the platform endorses the concept of a plan fathered by a Democrat, Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, which, in the words of the Republican platform, would "eliminate the present presumption of validity in favor of federal regulations."
Although party platforms frequently wind up in the same file with convention placards, taken all together the Republican platform and candidate's position paper suggest that business and Federal Register office have one thing to gain by a Reagan victory in November: More people than they'll know what to do with.