Trump's Regulatory Legacy: A First Draft: Despite the headlines, the Trump administration will likely have little lasting effect on federal regulation.

AuthorBatkins, Sam

When then-candidate Donald Trump began campaigning for president in 2015, he promised major cuts in regulation. He even quantified what he meant by this: in 2016 he remarked: "We are cutting the regulation at a tremendous clip. I would say 70% of regulations can go."

As his presidency comes to a close, it is worth reflecting on both that remark and his regulatory legacy over the past four years. On net, it has been somewhat unprecedented in its paucity of new major rules and its attempt to fundamentally reform the regulatory process through a "one-in, two-out" regulatory budget. Although conservatives have talked about regulatory budgets--including often in these pages--the Trump administration actually implemented one, and without going to Congress. For fans of fundamental reform, that is a major achievement. But its continuance is in doubt as another political party takes power.

On that point, it is worth emphasizing that without Congress, the durability of any regulatory legacy--even an unprecedented one--is dependent on the will of subsequent presidents who can undo that legacy with the stroke of a pen. When Joe Biden arrives in the Oval Office, he will be able to swiftly repeal Trump's one-in, two-out Executive Order 13771. Over the next four years, Biden can undo much of the deregulatory actions of the Trump administration. Some vestiges of Trump's regulatory legacy will remain, but it is the 115th Congress's unheralded S. 2155, which reformed parts of the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial regulation legislation, and guidance adding more scrutiny over independent agencies that might be his biggest enduring regulatory achievements.


There arguably are two ways to measure regulation: the stock and the flow. The former references existing regulations on the books. To then-candidate Trump's 70% promise, cutting the stock of all federal rules (a figure that is quantifiable but unknowable in practice) by that percentage is largely an impossible task-whether in four years or eight. However, cutting the flow of major regulations--those with an annual economic effect of $100 million or greater--is indeed achievable and a task many progressives labeled "radical."

For some context, from his inauguration until October 1,2016, President Barack Obama and his agencies issued 635 major regulations. During his first term, the Obama administration promulgated 326 major rules. A 70% cut in the flow of regulations would yield just 98 major rules over a four-year period. According to the Government Accountability Office's (GAO) major rules database, President Trump and his regulators had issued 238 major rules through October 1. Doing the math, President Trump has already issued at least 73% of the major rule flow of the Obama administration's first term in Trump's one (not yet complete) term.

The GAO figures above are somewhat blunt instruments to measure regulatory output, despite what many might read in the press. The Trump major rules do include deregulatory actions, as both regulation and deregulation require the issuance of new rules. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency issued just seven major rules from January 21,2017 to October 1, 2020. One of those rules was the "Repeal of the Clean Power Plan," a vestige of the Obama administration aimed at curbing greenhouse gases. By contrast, the Obama EPA issued 21 major rules during the same period in his first term. On this count, President Trump has succeeded in cutting the flow of major EPA regulations by 70%. Progressives...

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