President Trump has often touted his accomplishments in cutting regulations, and this week’s State of the Union address (SOTU) offers a unique chance to burnish those credentials and cement his legacy in that regard. He need only focus on five words to convey his vision: less regulation and less dependency in America.
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The president should use the international platform provided by this speech as an opportunity to declare two inter-related urgent priorities, in particular.
First, the president must strike back at the toxic “democratic socialism” the left is increasingly embracing. Second, he should further legitimize and expand one of his signature accomplishments so far: regulatory streamlining.
These goals are related because boosting enterprise and jobs through regulatory liberalization is necessary to create new economic opportunities and help people build financial security.
Let me explain.
The dominant theme in today’s political atmosphere is unquestionably the insurgent socialist turn in America and even a “soak the rich” mentality, alarming visions at odds with the vision of liberty, opportunity and respect integral to this nation’s founding and character.
The Green New Deal (aka, New Steal) currently in vogue with prominent Democrats is more than a wrong-headed, dictatorial “economic mobilization plan for the transition of the United States economy" to a fantastical non-reliance on fossil fuels. On its own that’s troubling, considering this is a nation and world that rely on abundant, affordable energy.
But, making matters worse, the proposal includes new “basic income programs, universal health care programs and any others,” plus “a new public bank or system of regional and specialized public banks, public venture funds.” For the poor and middle-class to succeed, in other words, government—and politicians’ own power—must grow and expand.
The democratic socialist worldview would transform every personal struggle into a public policy issue. That’s why President Obama started executing plans without Congress via his “pen and phone” and using his SOTU as a commercial for ObamaCare and a host of other sweeping federal programs, like “free” community college, paid workplace leave, a higher minimum wage and requiring employers to offer IRAs.
Pretending to lament income inequality and a wealth gap between rich and poor, these "remedies" would increase the cost of hiring new workers and keep more people out of work. Regulations aren’t free, after all; they amount to a hidden tax on every household and business in America.
This is the environment in which Trump is operating now. Trump should remind such radicals that Americans did not "throw off the yoke of Britain" back in 1776 to merely "procure new masters." Nowadays, this is supposed to be the most tolerant era of lifestyle choice and personal freedom, but somehow we need reminding that people who cherish limited government have the right to make that choice, too.
Trump should vehemently reject class warfare and reaffirm the fact that a country unencumbered by needless, counterproductive, and expensive rules and regulations is the only way to achieve and sustain prosperity. He should tout ways he has rolled back government and reiterate Ronald Reagan’s great insight: "Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem."
To his credit, Trump's regulatory agencies have in large part abstained from issuing significant new rules and regulations, although there are warning signs of backsliding, including Trump’s own discordant regulatory impulses with respect to antitrust, trade and some other issues. So the president should boldly reassert his intention to shore up and expand the now-famous “one-in, two-out” regulatory streamlining program to reduce costs and rules even further.
He should go further by announcing new executive actions to stop agencies’ reliance on sneaky, behind-the-scenes regulations. A few dozen laws are enacted annually by Congress, while unelected and largely unaccountable agencies issue some 3,000 rules. And there are thousands of agency general statements of policy and interpretive rules, both commonly called “guidance documents,” that have accumulated over the years. That sort of regulatory dark matter wields coercive, chilling, and wholly unaccountable power over regulated industries and economic freedom.
Even the bipartisan Administrative Conference of the United States acknowledges that “members of the public may feel bound by what they perceive as coercive guidance” and “sometimes find they have no practical escape.”
President Trump’s State of the Union address should challenge the rise of such government-induced dependency.
Clyde Wayne Crews Jr. is vice president for policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and author of the recent report “A Partial Eclipse of the Administrative State: A Case for an Executive Order to Rein in Guidance Documents and other ‘Regulatory Dark Matter."