On Monday morning Donald Trump picked right up where he left off on Friday, fulfilling another promise by issuing another executive order. This time the target was federal regulations.
In November Trump promised that he would sign an executive order requiring two regulations to be eliminated for every new one enacted. Not reviewed or updated -- eliminated. That proposal no doubt delighted many Trump supporters in the business community and elsewhere who constantly complain about the burden of federal regulations.
As he prepared to sign on Monday, Trump explained what would be required under his order:
"If you have a regulation you want, No. 1, we’re not gonna approve it because it’s already been approved probably in 17 different forms. But if we do, the only way you have a chance is we have to knock out two regulations for every new regulation. So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two."
Make sure you understand that. First of all, he is saying that he believes there are already regulations that cover anything and everything that could possibly need to be covered. But, just in case a government agency comes up with something that should be regulated, the only way that can happen is if two other regulations are removed from the books. And in addition, the cost of the new regulation cannot be more than the cost of the two that are being removed. That will likely cause agency heads to consider regulations for potential elimination not by their importance but by their expense.
Congressional Republicans love this order. In a statement House Speaker Paul Ryan said,
"The explosion of federal regulations has hamstrung small business growth and crippled our economy. President Trump’s executive order helps bring the nation’s regulatory regime into the 21st century by putting regulators on a budget, and addressing the costs agencies can impose each year."
The order will leave federal agencies in a quandary, as they will potentially be forced to remove necessary regulations in order to institute a new one. There's certainly nothing wrong with a regular review of regulations, and if that is what this order called for Trump would probably get little opposition. But Trump wants to use the regulatory process against itself. "You want a new regulation? Fine. Just tell me which others you're willing to do without."
Take the Food and Drug Administration, for example. Suppose the FDA discovered a new regulation was necessary to guarantee the safety of a new class of drug. What regulations are they going to do away with? Maybe we can do without standards for E. Coli in meat. Or how about those pesky tamper-proof seals on drugs? Nobody has been poisoned by Tylenol in years. Certainly we don't need that regulation anymore.
Trump comes from the school of thought that regulations are put into place to punish or restrict business, and are largely unnecessary. In fact, he pitched this order by claiming it would remove regulatory burdens from small businesses. But the preamble of the Constitution indirectly explains the purpose of regulations; they are typically intended "to promote the general welfare" of Americans.
It's true there are times when there are unintended consequences caused by regulations. But you handle that by examining the regulation in question, possibly leading to amending or eliminating it. What Trump is doing is potentially creating a situation where various concerns will lobby agencies to remove regulations affecting their interests when a new regulation becomes necessary. And you can bet that those concerns will line the pockets of friendly members of Congress to put pressure on those agencies as well.
If you like things like safe food and medication, regular inspections of airliners, clean air and water, and many things mandated by regulations, get ready. Those and many others are about to become victims of Trump's plan to Make America Great Again.