At the annual meeting of the Conservative Political Action Conference in February, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump’s chief strategist, outlined one of the administration’s core goals: the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
“The way the progressive left runs is, if they can’t get it passed, they’re just going to put in some sort of regulation,” Bannon told an audience of conservative politicians and activists. “That’s all going to be deconstructed.”
Since Trump took office, the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress have made major strides toward this goal, postponing, suspending, or abandoning over 90 Obama-era regulations on everything from gun sales to CEO pay, according to a recent report from The New York Times.
Trump has long promised to undertake “a historic effort to massively reduce job-crushing regulations” — telling a group of business executives in January that 75 per cent of federal regulations could be nixed.
And the speed with which Republicans have begun to fulfil this promise is largely unprecedented.
“By any empirical measure, it is a level of activity that has never been seen,” Curtis Copeland, an expert on federal regulatory policy who formerly worked at the Congressional Research Service and the Government Accountability Office,
The administration has simultaneously set up barriers to new regulations, requiring that two old regulations be repealed with the enactment of any one new rule and freezing the enactment of all pending regulations. In addition, every federal agency must create a team of employees dedicated to finding rules that can be repealed.
A recent report found a dozen instances in which the administration has made changes in regulatory policy immediately following specific requests from private industry lobbyists and executives.
The Business Roundtable, a conservative group of executives intent on influencing public policy, has crafted a list of 16 regulations, including those governing the disclosure of information about CEO compensation, that it would like repealed. Legislative efforts to reverse 10 of these rules are already in progress.
In an example of the success of these direct appeals, the National Rifle Association released a statement on January 24 requesting that Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke reverse a rule banning the use of lead-based bullets on federal lands, which can unintentionally poison wildlife as well as those who handle the ammunition. On March 2, the day after Zinke was confirmed, he repealed the bullet regulation, arguing the rule exemplified federal overreach.
Many of Trump’s cabinet members are veteran champions of deregulation. As Bannon said at CPAC, “If you look at these cabinet appointees, they were selected for a reason and that is the deconstruction.”
As the attorney general of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt, the new head of the Department of Environmental Protection, sued the EPA 14 times, largely in attempts to curtail the agency’s clean air and water regulations. On several occassions, Pruitt sent letters to the EPA — and even to Obama directly — that were later discovered to have been written by oil and gas companies.
Within weeks of taking office, Trump reversed a rule that prohibits the coal-mining industry from polluting streams, and loosened regulations of greenhouse-gas emissions by electric companies and of transparency surrounding oil and gas exploration.
Ajit Pai, a former lawyer for Verizon and now the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, has already targeted net neutrality rules and revoked a resolution requiring the country’s biggest telecommunications companies, including Verizon, to take “reasonable measures” to protect their customers’ personal information from being hacked or accidentally released.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross recently said that Trump’s economic advisers
“are up to our eyeballs” in regulations to be nixed. Ross is planning to work with business associations to dramatically deregulate, and estimates the Trump administration will save American businesses “very possibly approaching a hundred odd billions of dollars.”
In early February, Trump signed an executive order putting in motion a repeal of the Obama administration’s retirement savings rule, which would have required that financial advisers act in their clients’ best interests.
Democrats, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren, denounced the move, arguing it “will make it easier for investment advisers to cheat you out of your retirement savings.”
Democrats have also condemned Trump’s executive order taking aim at Dodd-Frank, the regulatory law put in place after the 2008 financial crash, and his recruitment of bank executives, including chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, the former CEO of Goldman Sachs, and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, a former Goldman banker, to run the administration’s financial policy. Both Cohn and Mnuchin are fierce critics of Obama-era Wall Street regulations.
Richard Painter, President George W. Bush’s top ethics lawyer, said the administration is championing deregulation that will benefit Trump personally.
“The deregulation of financial services will lead to more bank loans for real estate, driving up real estate prices,” Painter told The Washington Post. “That ups the value of his real estate holdings, which the Trump organisation could then sell at the top of the market.”
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