Happy (Deregulated) New Year! | Investor’s Business Daily

President Trump has rolled back more federal rules and regulations than any modern American president. But as 2018 ends and 2019 begins, can he keep up the pace? It may be hard.




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The Competitive Enterprise Institute has just released its year-end reckoning of Trump’s deregulatory moves for this year. As they note, it’s both good and bad.

As they describe the president’s 2018 record, it was “Better than Obama, Bush II, and Clinton in terms of fewer regulations; but not as good as Trump’s own first year.”

President Trump ended the year with 68,082 pages in the Federal Register, which is the nation’s rulebook. That’s quite low by recent standards, but marks a 10% gain from the end of last year, when the total pages in the register totaled just 61,308 pages, the lowest since 1993.

While that may still sound like a lot, consider that Trump’s 2017 total was 36% below the record 95,894 pages in 2016, set by President Obama. The regulatory siege during Obama’s administration goes a long way toward explaining the economy’s poor performance.

Still Too Many Rules

But what about the amount of actual federal regulation? More pages in the rulebook almost inevitably means more rules. For Trump, the number of total federal rules rose 2% to 3,367 in 2018, a gain from the 3,281 rules in 2017, Trump’s first year. Even so, 2018’s rule total was still more than 12% below Obama’s final year.

And remember: Trump’s first year reduction in rules put the total at the lowest since record-keeping began in the early 1970s. So Trump remains the all-time champion of rule-cutting, besting even President Reagan. It explains why the economy started growing at 3% under Trump, even as the U.S. job-machine shifted into high gear.

But does the 2018 slowdown in deregulation mean Trump is backsliding on his pledge to free the economy from unneeded rules? Hardly. But it does show what a Herculean task deregulating is.

As CEI notes, the modern regulatory state has been crafted to keep even presidents from making it shrink permanently. It’s almost devious in its design.

“Rules and regulations cannot be revoked, only replaced by new ones under the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act’s public notice-and-comment process,” the CEI notes, adding “And things get even far more convoluted than that.”

Rule-Cutting Catch-22

Remember that Trump vowed to get rid of two rules for every new one put in place? By the bizarre logic of bureaucracy, Trump must write a new rule to get rid of an old one. It’s a classic Catch-22: “So in a perverse sense, he can’t shrink the Federal Register page count and the number of rules, but has managed to do it anyway by writing fewer new regulatory rather than deregulatory ones.”

But because, well, rules are rules, Trump will increasingly find it harder to replace two rules with one without Congress’ help and consent. And with Democrats now in power in the House, that’s not likely to be forthcoming.

Just look at their agenda. It includes “Medicare For All,” “A Better Deal,” “A Green New Deal,” something called “universal high-speed internet,” and a host of other programs that would by necessity involve thousands of new regulations and trillions of dollars in new spending.

Deregulating The Regulators

Maybe a future Congress can amend the 1946 Administrative Procedure Act. That would permit future reform-minded presidents the ability to cut costly and unneeded regulations, many of them written by unelected bureaucrats not acting in the public interest.

As we’ve noted here repeatedly, this isn’t a minor or obscure debate. Recent estimates have put the total cost of regulation to the economy at over $2 trillion. That’s an enormous amount. And it’s really a tax, one you didn’t agree to pay but that bureaucrats levied on you nonetheless. It’ll only get worse in coming years.

So good luck to President Trump in his effort to slay the regulatory dragon. And Happy (Deregulated) New Year.

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