President Trump is passing fewer new executive regulations than his predecessors, according to a study released on Monday by a top libertarian think tank, but the push could give way to an increase in activity at the federal agencies in the second half of the administration.
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In the first two years of Trump’s term, the White House completed 6,649 rules, compared to 7,076 during the first half of former President Barack Obama’s inaugural term, according to the Competitive Enterprise Institute. The number of finished rules in 2017 was 3,281, the lowest amount since record-keeping began in the 1970s, the study found.
During his eight years in office, former President George W. Bush averaged 63 “major” rules annually, or those that have an annual impact on the economy of more than $100 million. Obama averaged 86, while Trump is averaging 51 per year.
On the deregulatory front, the White House has removed 1,579 rules over two years put in place but not finalized during the Obama administration. In the same time frame, however, Trump issued 98 executive orders compared to Obama’s 85.
In the early days of his White House tenure, Trump issued a “one in, two out” policy in regards to federal rulemaking, meaning that for any new regulation an agency must remove two existing statutes.
While he has been successful in that effort, according to study author Clyde Wayne Crews, it could pave the way for more executive branch activity in the future. The deregulatory mission could also be blunted by the administration’s trade agenda and new regulations on top tech firms like Amazon and Facebook, among other things.
“Trump has succeeded in the ‘one in, two out’ measure, but a lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked and are offset by Trump’s own regulatory impulses,” he told FOX Business.
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Republicans routinely decry the growth of the federal government during the Obama administration and were quick to act to roll back several regulations finalized during the last months of his term.
Legislation advanced through the standard congressional process can also cede significant authority to the federal agencies. While such a system allows the policy matter experts at the major departments to oversee the rollout of major laws, it also allows future administration’s to pursue unilateral changes.
In their attempt to repeal Obamacare, for example, GOP lawmakers often cited the power the law gave to the Department of Health and Human Services as justification for Trump’s attempts to roll back key aspects. The GOP-led tax law also relied on new regulations from the Treasury Department.
Business leaders often discuss the difficulty that arises from Congress giving so much ownership of the process to federal agencies, which can be influenced by the political affiliation of whoever is in the White House.
"We made regulators legislators," AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson said at a forum organized by Business Roundtable in 2018. "Depending on who's in office at a particular moment of time … the rules just swing back and forth like a pendulum.”