Washington taxes and spends, but lost in the shuffle are the trillions of dollars Americans spend every year just to comply with federal regulations.

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, combed through the 81,405 pages of the Federal Registry — which contains the nation’s regulations on businesses, and state and local governments — and cites a report showing that regulation cost the economy a whopping $1.75 trillion in 2008.

That’s a lot of dough for an economy struggling to get back on its feet after one of the worst recessions in recent memory. Problem is — and politicians know it — hardly anyone pays much attention. (You mean you weren’t hooked at “federal regulatory code” either?)

Here’s the theory: Americans are reminded of their taxes with each paycheck, they watch debates over government spending on the nightly news and hear members of Congress scream about “waste, fraud and abuse” on the House and Senate floors. But how many Tea Party rallies focus on rules concerning the “importation of manufactured wood articles” that raise the price for companies and consumers? The entire language of regulation — which Crews calls the “hidden tax” — just isn’t sexy enough to get anyone riled up, making it easier to stuff the federal code with more rules.

Agencies write and pass new rules largely out of sight, so even some of the heaviest news junkies out there tend to overlook the economic impact, Crews argues.

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