“Now we’re gonna have regulations—and they’re gonna be just as strong, and just as good, and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now,” Trump pronounced. “The problem with the regulation that we have right now is you can’t do anything. I have people telling me they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product, and it’s out of control. It’s gotten out of control.”
His declaration should come as no surprise—he’s said time and time again that deregulation will be a major priority of his administration. Trump has already grinded his federal agencies to a halt with a broad hiring freeze and singled out the Environmental Protection Agency—the right’s poster child for regulatory burden—by taking down certain web pages, like the one that houses its climate change research, freezing its grants, and issuing an internal media blackout.
These concerning moves are just the first of what is shaping up to be an aggressive crusade to cut the federal regulatory state off at the knees. As Mike Allen’s new D.C. insider outlet Axios reports, the Trump administration is planning a “rapid, radical gutting of government regulations” that takes aim at domestic agencies, primarily the EPA, the Energy Department, the Interior Department, and the Education Department. The goal, aides said, is to “open up the animal spirits of the economy.”
The controversial cabinet nominees Trump has chosen to lead the departments with the largest regulatory reach—among them, Scott Pruitt (EPA), Rick Perry (Energy), Ryan Zinke (Interior), Betsy DeVos (Education), and Andrew Puzder (Labor)—are known within the White House as the “deconstructors,” Axios reports, because of their commitment to wiping out the key responsibilities of the agencies they will run.
"This is an important area that has flown under the radar among Democrats, and even Republicans and conservatives. President Trump plans to attack the regulatory state from every angle,” a “senior transition source” told Axios. “The government has been captured by elites, which gets to the very core of what animates the president."
At the helm of the deregulatory project are white nationalist and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon and policy advisor Steven Miller. The first step, according to internal documents, will be to withdraw or suspend any Obama rule or regulation that wasn’t finalized, reopening finalized rules that have “highly negative economic consequences,” and suspending upcoming grants to nonprofits and universities “pending review,” as well as suspending “some hires in progress.”
From there, top priorities will be going after the Obama EPA’s Clean Power Plan and greenhouse gas emissions regulations and reopening consideration of federal fuel efficiency standards. Trump will also reopen the Interior Department’s plan for determining which offshore areas are open for energy exploration. At Energy, all “regulations, loan guarantees, and deployment of energy technologies” will be frozen as the administration begins undermining key parts of Obama’s Climate Action Plan. At Education, there’s talk of voucherizing federal Title I spending and dramatically rolling back the federal government’s higher education loan programs.
Unilaterally undermining agency missions—which seems to be the administration’s plan—could prove more immediately effective than formally rescinding them, which would require going through a lengthy and intensive rulemaking process, or dismantling agency power, which requires congressional approval.
“When Trump announces he’s going to repeal 75 percent of regulations, my answer would be no, he can’t do that,” says Sid Shapiro, an administrative law professor and vice president of the Center for Progressive Reform. “If he announces that he’s going to undermine 75 percent of the rules, my answer would be yes, you could do that.” Agency heads could easily undermine regulations by rolling back enforcement and settling lawsuits, which would signal to industry that it’s open season on rules. “That can be very effective and very destabilizing and harmful,” Shapiro says.
The Trump administration’s deregulatory zeal is driven not only by a supposed disdain for the governmental elite but by a business mythology that regulations place too great a financial burden on companies and, thus, kill job creation. As Alena Semuels ably explains at The Atlantic, the old Republican standby term “job-killing regulations” is not borne out by evidence:
[T]he idea that regulations stunt job growth more broadly is not supported by research. Many of the academic studies that have explored the question find that regulations don’t decrease jobs in the overall economy. They sometimes reduce jobs in certain sectors, but they create new jobs in others. A factory that makes lead additives for gasoline might be shut down because regulations have banned lead additives. But new jobs will then be created at a factory that makes catalytic converters, which are emissions-control devices for cars. Some workers, then, benefit from regulation, while others lose. That doesn’t mean that the losses aren’t real and painful for the people who held those jobs, but the overall picture is not one that can be accurately characterized by the phrase “job-killing.”
Trump and his ilk are perpetuating the mythology, peddled by corporate lobbyists and trade associations, that the basic regulations that protect the public—ensuring clean air and water and limiting harmful carbon emissions, making sure that companies maintain safe workplaces and adhere to labor law, preventing the finance sector from plunging the country into another economic catastrophe—are a direct attack on a prosperous economy and limit companies from being the engines of growth.
In reality, deregulation is a core tenet of the right’s trickle-down economic agenda—tax cuts and deregulation for corporations while everyone else deals with the fallout. For his embrace of dangerous deregulation that will leave us all to battle the “animal spirits” of deregulated capitalism, Trump is our Trickle Downer of the Week.