President Trump has embarked on the most aggressive campaign against government regulation in a generation, joining with Republican lawmakers to roll back rules already on the books and limit the ability of federal regulators to impose new ones.
After just a few weeks in office, the new administration is targeting dozens of Obama-era policies, using both legislative and executive tactics. The fallout is already rippling across the federal bureaucracy and throughout the U.S. economy, affecting how dentists dispose of mercury fillings, how schools meet the needs of poor and disabled students, and whether companies reject mineral purchases that fuel one of the world’s bloodiest conflicts.
The campaign has alarmed labor unions, public safety advocates and environmental activists, who fear losing regulations that have been in place for years, along with relatively new federal mandates. Business groups, however, are thrilled, saying Trump is responding to long-standing complaints that a profusion of federal regulations unnecessarily increases costs and hampers their ability to create jobs.
Under Trump, “there’s great optimism that all of them will be addressed,” said Rosario Palmieri, vice president for labor, legal and regulatory policy at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Trump and congressional Republicans are working to strip rules away at an unprecedented rate. One of the most powerful levers is the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that gives lawmakers the power to nullify any regulation within 60 days of enactment.
Before Trump took office, the Congressional Review Act had been successfully used only once, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule in 2001. So far this year, the House has moved to nullify eight new rules and is considering dozens more. Two of those measures — which would loosen environmental restrictions on waste-mining companies and financial disclosure requirements on oil and gas firms — have cleared the Senate and are on their way to the White House for the president’s signature.
A more extensive assault on government regulation is likely to come. On Jan. 30, Trump signed an executive order that requires agencies to offset the cost of every significant new regulation by eliminating existing regulations or making them less onerous. The order declares that “the total incremental cost of all new regulations” issued this year “shall be no more than zero.”
That sets a far more stringent standard than recent Republican administrations have attempted, experts on regulation said, leaving a slew of Obama-era rules in limbo.
“It’s clear as can be that they intend to reduce the level of regulation,” said James Gattuso, a senior fellow in regulatory policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation, who said the directive marks the first explicit attempt to contain the costs of federal mandates.
“If successful,” Gattuso said, “it would be the first time in a generation,” since Ronald Reagan was in the White House.
According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the cost of federal regulations has grown every year since 1982. Republicans of all stripes have long railed against what they say are crippling economic effects.
“Overregulation has stemmed economic growth and job creation,” White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently told reporters.
Making sure government rules “are meeting their intent and not stifling job creation at the expense of whatever they were intended to do is something that should be smart and welcome by everybody,” he said.
The administration’s anti-
regulatory push goes well beyond a technical review, however.
“It’s a much more aggressive rollback attempt than we’ve seen in recent years,” said Tevi Troy, who served George W. Bush as a senior White House official and in two Cabinet-level agencies. He noted that many conservatives have long been disappointed that the Bush administration did not do more to “clear out some of the regulatory underbrush.”
Votes under the Congressional Review Act have come at such a rapid clip that liberal interest groups feel pummeled. After the House voted last week to…