Trump Administration Issues Record-Low Number of Regulations Amid Red Tape-Cutting Drive

The Trump administrations efforts to relieve American businesses of regulatory burden that can stifle economic growth have led to a year of record-breaking deregulation, while experts say there is more to be done.

While the total number of pages of the Federal Register (pdf)—the ledger that lists government regulations—swelled to 72,564 pages by Dec. 31, the number of rules hit historic lows.

According to Clyde Wayne Crews, a regulation expert and policy vice president at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the Federal Register published 2,964 final rules.

“This is the lowest count since records started being kept in the mid-1970s,” he wrote in Forbes.

“It is a notable achievement that all three of the lowest-ever annual rule counts belong to Trump. This an even more significant development given that some of Trumps rules are rules written to get rid of or replace other rules,” he noted.

Key to President Donald Trumps drive to slash red tape was Executive Order 13771, which forces agencies to cut two old regulations for every new one issued. The order, issued on Jan. 30, 2017, also imposed a regulatory budget requiring that each agency impose zero or negative new net costs.

“It is important that for every one new regulation issued, at least two prior regulations be identified for elimination, and that the cost of planned regulations be prudently managed and controlled through a budgeting process,” Trump noted in the order.

Trump uses gold scissors to cut a red tape
Trump uses gold scissors to cut a red tape
President Donald Trump uses gold scissors to cut a red tape tied between two stacks of papers representing the government regulations of the 1960s (L) and the regulations of today (R) after he spoke about his administrations efforts in deregulation in the Roosevelt Room of the White House on Dec. 14, 2017. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Philip Wallach, a senior fellow at the R Street Institute, argued in an op-ed for the National Review that despite the deregulatory efforts of the administration, more remains to be done.

“The old order has proven itself more than capable of withstanding this presidents antiregulatory efforts,” Wallach wrote. “Given three years of experience under Trump, those of us who wish to see Americas administrative state brought to heel must recognize what a long and difficult slog awaits us.”

Some of the gains from the early aggressive efforts on the part of the administration to cut red tape have seen a slight reversal, which experts blame on trade barriers.

Ryan Young of the Competitive Enterprise Institute said that there were 2,106 proposed regulations in 2019, which, while close to the 2,072 proposed regulations in 2018, is nearly 15 percent higher than the Trump administrations first-year figure of 1,837 proposed regulations in 2017.

“The general story the numbers tell is that the Trump administration has been steadily increasing its pace of regulatory activity,” Young said, blaming the rise on regulations imposed by trade agreements.

“Deregulatory efforts will likely continue in 2020, but will likely to be more than offset by regulatory increases elsewhere,” Crews said. “Trade barriers have more than doubled since 2017. While the USMCA trade agreement will keep tariffs against Canada and Mexico in check, it contains substantial new regulatory burdens and non-tariff trade barriers. Upcoming agreements with China, the United Kingdom, and the European Union, if these happen, due to USMCAs precedent, they will also likely contain substantial new regulatory burdens.”

Ten Thousand Commandments

Crews compiles Ten Thousand Commandments, an annual review of the size, scope, and cost of federal regulations, which he calls a “large and unappreciated hidden tax.”

“The estimated $1.9 trillion “hidden tax” of regulation is greater than the corporate and personal income taxes combined,” Crews noted in an introduction to the 2019 edition of the review. “If the cost of federal regulations were a country, it would be the ninth largest, behind India and just ahead of Canada.”

The survey also aims to asses the regulatory impact on American businesses and consumers, as well as the overall U.S. economy.

“Each U.S. households estimated regulatory burden is at least $14,615 annually on average. That amounts to 20 percent of the average pre-tax household budget and exceeds every item in that budget, except housing,” Crews writes in the report.

The policy expert called Trumps deregulation drive “the most aggressive effort at regulatory reform in over a quarter century.”

“Policymakers frequently propose spending stimulus as a way to grow economies,” he says in the report. “It rarely goes well. A regulatory liberalization stimulus, on the other hand, can offer confidence and certainty for businesses and entrepreneurs.”

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