Trump plots two-for-one assault on Obama regs
President-elect Donald Trump is setting out to gut the Obama administration’s regulations, starting with a mandate that would slowly chip away at the number of rules on the books.
In a video message mapping out his first 100 days, Trump said he would issue an executive order stating that for every new rule issued, two must be eliminated.
The president-elect has decried the regulations that he says have hurt businesses and the economy, particularly those aimed at the environment. And Republicans in Congress are eager to help him roll back many of President Obama’s regulations.
“One of the keys to unlocking growth is scaling back years of disastrous regulations unilaterally imposed by out-of-control bureaucrats,” Trump said during a September speech at the Economic Club of New York. “Regulations have grown into a massive, job-killing industry – and the regulation industry is one business I will absolutely put to an end on day one.”
It’s unclear how such a two-for-one arrangement would be carried out, but the proposal is raising hopes among those who are calling for deregulation.
“Rules have compounded for decades with very little rollback ever taking place, so it is a reasonable request that any time an agency issues a regulation, it should remove a similar magnitude regulatory burden (or, better, two) somewhere else,” Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., policy director of the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute, said in an op-ed in Forbes last month.
But Crews worries the requirement will only work on the periphery – getting rid of things like paperwork and forms instead of major rules.
In a white paper, Marcus Peacock, a research professor at the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center, said this "pay as you go" style of regulating has potential for “more regulatory balance," but it depends on what would be considered a new regulation and who will decide on the trade-offs.
"Limiting the scope of offsets to the agency creating a new burden provides much stronger incentives within agencies to more carefully consider whether a new regulation is necessary, minimize the new regulation’s burden, and identify those existing rules that are most ripe to be reduced or eliminated," he wrote.
Pro-regulatory groups, meanwhile, say such a strict two-for one mandate could put needed public health and safety protections on the chopping block.
“The idea that for any given regulation we’d remove another or two is arbitrary,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch Division. “There’s no connection between different public protections and the purpose they serve.”
Trump has provided little detail about his plans. But some lawmakers and experts say that he could pull some lessons from other countries -- Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom all have similar requirements.
“Canada does it based on administrative costs, the U.K. and Australia try to look at compliance costs on business,” said Susan Dudley, director of the GW Regulatory Studies Center at George Washington University and former administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
“It’s going to be complicated no matter what he chooses.”
Jitinder Kohli, a former senior official in the British government who now leads work on government performance at Deloitte Consulting LLP, said the U.K. policy has forced government agencies there to look for ways to streamline regulations to reduce costs.
Instead of focusing on cutting the number of regulations, Kohli recommended Trump focus on the actual costs of rules, though they are sometimes difficult to calculate.
“Sometimes you can get rid of a regulatory requirement and it doesn’t save businesses any money,” he said.
For every rule issued in the U.K., three existing rules must be eliminated.
According to a U.K. government report, that requirement saved businesses £885 million from May 5, 2015 to May 26, 2016, or nearly $1.1 billion based on current conversion rates.
“Sometimes you can achieve significant reductions in regulatory costs without removing protections,” Kohli said.
Kohli said the U.K. has made a point of working with businesses to comply with new regulations.
“Often small businesses told us that it’s hard for them to know how to comply with regulations. It’s too complicated, so we were able to significantly reduce the costs to small business by making it clearer what the requirements were,” he said.
“There was a concerted effort to change the way regulators thought about their jobs and engaged with regulated entities in the U.K.,” Kohli said. “We focused on improving compliance and protections while mitigating costs.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) previously said the U.K. and Canada have had “limited success” with their policies.
“I don’t mind talking about it and looking at it, but we have to figure out how to actually make it work,” he said shortly after the election.
Philip Howard, chair of Common Good, a government and legal reform advocacy group, said the U.K.’s policy produced “modest” cost savings, but said it’s a first step toward regulatory reform that could benefit the U.S.
“You’re never going to drain the swamp with one-in, two-out,” he said. “What’s really good about it is it imposes on regulators a discipline that before they add a new burden they should look at old burdens no longer needed or effective.”
"Making people put on the hat and say, 'Gee if we want to regulate that, we have to remove twice as many burdens,' it changes the way regulators approach their job," he said. “That’s a very good thing."
Advocates for health and safety protections, however, say Americans shouldn’t be forced to give up one protection for another.
“I’ve never argued that every rule on the books is perfect and doesn’t need an update, but I don’t think we need a strictly limiting process,” Gilbert said.
In addition to the two-for-one rule, Trump has also promised to specifically dismantle ObamaCare, the Dodd-Frank financial reform regulations, and several major environmental regulations, including Obama's Clean Power Plan.