With his tariffs on aluminum and steel, his family-separating crackdowns on nonviolent illegal immigrants, and his authoritarian musings about executing drug dealers, President Donald Trump is a libertarian’s nightmare.
Except when it comes to regulatory reform.
The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), a D.C.-based free-market think tank that focuses on the administrative state, tallied up the number of regulations in Trump’s first year in office and found “the lowest count since records began being kept in the mid-1970s.” CEI’s Clyde Wayne Crews told Reason, “I haven’t seen personally anything like the regulatory reductions that have taken place.”
What’s producing these results? Part is the president’s early executive orders mandating that for every new regulation two old ones get killed, and that the net imposed regulatory cost of each agency and department be zero. Trump has also appointed some genuine reformers: Scott Gottlieb at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Ajit Pai at the Federal Communications Commission, and Betsy DeVos at the Department of Education.
Chief among the anti-bureaucratic bureaucrats is Neomi Rao, administrator of the obscure but important Office for Regulatory Affairs, which applies cost-benefit analyses to proposed regulations while making sure they still align with legislative intent. Rao, who came to the administration after founding the Center for the Study of the Administrative State at George Mason University, tells Reason, “We have done more in our first year than any president since we’ve been keeping records, which is back to Reagan.”
President Trump appears genuinely enthusiastic about this push, talking up FDA reforms in both of his State of the Union addresses and crowing at a December red-tape-cutting ceremony that the “never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden screeching and beautiful halt.”
But Crews warns that a midterm will be much harder for Trump to navigate than the comparative honeymoon of 2017. “I think in 2018, he’s going to have a much tougher time meeting the goal,” Crews said. “When you’re acting alone as president and you can’t make law on your own, the barrier that you run into is you run out of low-hanging fruit.”