Regulatory Reform Gets the Spotlight in Washington

For such an arcane topic, regulatory reform is getting a lot of attention inside and outside of Washington these days. Reining in regulatory overreach was a central part of President Donald Trump’s message during the 2016 campaign. Thankfully, he’s hitting the ground running in working with Congress to bring meaningful relief to the hardworking American taxpayers and electricity ratepayers across the country.

This is a refreshing change from the past eight years. Former President Barack Obama directed executive agencies to re-interpret decades-old laws in ways Congress never intended and issued overreaching new rules. Combined with years of congressional dereliction — in which Congress passed overly broad and vaguely written statutes — federal agencies have had free rein to create regulations impacting nearly every sector of the American economy.

This flurry of regulatory activity has had devastating impacts. One study from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University found that between 1980 and 2012, regulations cost the economy $4 trillion. Obama famously bypassed Congress with his “pen and phone” strategy and embarked on an even bigger increase in federal regulations. His agencies promulgated more than 20,000 regulations at costs that exceeded $100 billion each year.

Now, the bevy of regulatory reform activity coming out of Washington — from executive orders and resolutions of disapproval, to standalone bills passed by the House — has breathed new life into hopes for regulatory relief that will ignite freedom and opportunity for all Americans.

Trump signed two executive orders providing structural reforms shortly after taking office. One put a moratorium on issuing new regulations, and another directed federal agencies to implement a one-in, two-out cap on regulations going forward.

The Republican-led Congress has proven to be an enthusiastic partner in regulatory reform. Each chamber has made impressive progress in processing legislation peeling back Obama-era regulation, especially giving the myriad other measures competing for floor time. The House passed a number of regulatory reform bills early in the year. Most notable was Rep. Doug Collins’ (R-Ga.) REINS Act, which would build on the model of the Congressional Review Act by requiring all major federal regulations to receive approval from Congress before being implemented. Also important was Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-Calif.) Midnight Rules Regulation Act, which would allow Congress to consider multiple CRA resolutions at a time.

In addition to these structural reforms, the House and Senate have also made impressive progress in processing resolutions of disapproval under the CRA of regulations issued late in 2016, including on the Bureau of Land Management’s stream protection rule, BLM methane rule and Securities and Exchange Commission resource-extraction disclosure rule. Once signed by the president, these rules will be permanently overturned and agencies will be prohibited from issuing similar rules in the future.

The Trump administration and Congress show little sign of slowing their efforts to achieve a more rational regulatory regime. Following his earlier actions providing structural reforms, the president is now issuing executive orders directing the newly confirmed Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt to dismantle the so-called Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule. The House last week passed a number of standalone efforts: Rep. Jason Smith’s (R-Mo.) SCRUB Act – which would create a commission to review and recommend changes to the nearly 80,000 pages of federal regulations – and the Rep. Tim Walberg’s (R-Mich.) Regulatory Integrity Act – which would increase transparency in rulemaking.

The White House and Congress have an opportunity to change the trajectory of our country, and both Trump and Congress have made an impressive start. However, it will take a long-term commitment to passing and enforcing regulatory reform laws if we hope for permanent relief and to stop the regulatory state from growing in the future. Long-term reform requires the permanency and enforcement of all three branches: executive, legislative and judicial.


Christine Harbin is vice president of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity.

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