The president's first year of slowing down regulations shattered previous records. But will politics and legislative inaction stall things from here?
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With his tariffs on aluminum and steel, family-separating crackdowns on nonviolent illegal immigrants, and authoritarian musings about executing drug dealers, President Donald Trump can be a libertarian's nightmare.
Except when it comes to regulatory reform.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a Washington, D.C.-based free market think tank that focuses on the administrative state, tallied up the number of regulations in Trump's first year in office and found, "This is the lowest count since records began being kept in the mid-1970s." CEI Vice President for Policy Clyde Wayne Crews told Reason that, "I haven't seen personally anything like the regulatory reductions that have taken place."
What's producing these results? In part, the president's early executive orders mandating that with every new regulation two old ones get killed, and that the net imposed regulatory cost of each agency and department be zero. Trump has also appointed some real reformers to change the way the executive branch does business: Scott Gottlieb at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Ajit Pai at the Federal Communications Commission, Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education, and Rick Perry at the Department of Energy.
Chief among the anti-bureaucratic bureaucrats is Neomi Rao, administrator of the obscure-sounding but important Office for Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), which applies cost-benefit analyses to proposed regulation while making sure it still aligns with legislative intent. Rao, who came to the administration after founding the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University's Antonin Scalia Law School, tells Reason that, "We have done more in our first year than any president since we've been keeping records, which is back to Reagan."
President Trump appears genuinely enthusiastic about this push, talking up FDA reforms in both of his State of the Union addresses, and crowing at a December red-tape-cutting ceremony that, "The never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden screeching and beautiful halt."
But Crews warns that a midterm will be much harder for Trump to navigate than the comparative honeymoon of 2017. "I think in 2018, he's going to have a much tougher time meeting the goal," Crews said. "When you're acting alone as president and you can't make law on your own, the barrier that you run into is you run out of low-hanging fruit."
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