If the Trump administration were a piece of office equipment, it would be a paper shredder. An industrial-grade, multi-bladed paper shredder.
That infamous description by opponents is a representation administration members very much enjoy. Wherever and whenever possible for the past three-plus years, the White House has done its best to carve the federal registrar into confetti. And that deregulation has not slowed during the pandemic.
Trump is in fact having a deregulatory moment, and the purpose is two-fold. The administration believes that taking a pair of shears to red tape will help beat the coronavirus and simultaneously boost an economic recovery. The president signed an executive order in May to direct agencies across the board to rescind or waive any regulation inhibiting those two purposes.
It was, a senior administration official remarked at the time, one of the few moments of crisis in history that government rescinded rather than accumulated power. Details of the latest White House Unified Agenda, a semi-annual report first obtained by RealClearPolitics, continue that trend.
During the pandemic, the administration has taken 740 actions on everything from loosening fuel efficiency requirements to easing telehealth regulations. And the shredder continues to shred, said acting Office of Management and Budget director Russ Vought, telling RCP that nothing has slowed the “largest deregulation effort in modern history.” Vought insisted that the agenda, the eighth and final one issued before the November election, would be the capstone of Trump’s effort to “remove government obstacles that stifle small business growth, while growing our economy and saving American jobs.”
The administration set the goal of removing two regulations for each one it implements. When the president regularly asks Vought about progress in achieving that ratio, he answers that 7.5 regs are being removed to each one added. The same pace is expected to continue through the final year of the president’s first term.
The entire exercise suits the president. Trump the real-estate developer chafed under zoning laws and environmental and labor regulations. Trump the candidate promised to go on a deregulatory tear if elected, and as president he has slashed big and small, most notably the Paris Climate Accord.
Opponents have condemned those actions as irresponsible while supporters credit them with sparking the economy. According to White House numbers, shredding red tape before the pandemic cut regulatory costs by $50 billion. Officials estimated earlier that once those new rules were fully implemented, they would amount to nearly $220 billion in savings. Trump now plans to do more.
“When the president has a chance to do something on his own directly through executive order, not partnering with Congress, what does he do? His instincts tell him to go back to what has worked in the past,” Anthony Campau, former chief of staff at the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, told RCP in May.
Paul Ray, the current administrator in that role, now says that more is on its way. He cited as accomplishments the Waters of the United States rule that freed landowners and ranchers from Environmental Protection Agency regulation as well as relaxed rules for automobile fuel economy.
Both changes were met with protests from Democrats and environmentalists, complaints that fell on deaf ears inside the administration. This won’t change in the final six months of the president’s first term.
“With the rulemakings featured in this year’s spring agenda,” Ray told RCP, “agencies will continue to rescind and revise regulations to promote economic recovery and growth.”
All of this is on brand for Trump. He told his Cabinet during a May meeting that he wanted them “to go to town.” He added that they should “do it right” and do it proper.” Every change, the president insisted, should be “safe” and “environmentally good.”
“Good luck,” he said before signing the executive order to make pandemic deregulations permanent. “It gives you tremendous power to cut regulations.” The upcoming Unified Agenda will detail more of those changes. A senior administration told RCP to “stay tuned for year 5.”