The Great Rules Rollback

Amid the debate over tweets and tax reform, perhaps the most significant change brought by the first year of the Trump Presidency has been overlooked: reining in and rolling back the regulatory state at a pace faster than even Ronald Reagan. This is a major reason for the acceleration of animal spirits and faster economic growth in the past year.

A rules rollback is harder than it sounds because the inertial tendency of bureaucracies is to expand, and the modern administrative state has expanded almost inexorably under presidents of both parties. New rules are published in the Federal Register, and Barack Obama presided over six of the seven highest annual page counts ever. In 2016 his regulators left town with a record-breaking binge of 95,894 new pages, according to Wayne Crews, who tracks the administrative state for the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

George W. Bush wasn’t much better. His Administration added 79,435 pages in 2008, its most expansive regulatory year. By contrast in the first year of the Trump Presidency through Sept. 30, 45,678 pages were added to the Federal Register. Many were required to follow-up on legislation and rules from the Obama era, so the Trump trend is even better.


Ten days after his inauguration, Mr. Trump issued an executive order directing his departments to scour the books for rules they could rescind or repeal without damaging the law. He also directed that for each single regulation issued, agencies should identify at least two for elimination. In one his best appointments, he named Neomi Rao to run the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs that must clear new rules.

The results have been impressive. Ms. Rao reported this month that through Sept. 30 the Trump Administration had taken 67 deregulatory actions but only three new significant regulatory actions. That’s a 22 to 1 ratio. She also reported that since fall 2016 more than 1,500 planned regulatory actions have been withdrawn or delayed. For fiscal 2018, the current agenda includes 448 deregulatory actions and 131 regulatory actions, a better than 3 to 1 ratio.

One reason for success is forcing agencies to abide by the Administrative Procedure Act, which outlines a public comment period for proper rule-making and which the Obama Administration routinely ignored. Last year Mr. Crews counted at least 480 Obama-issued executive orders and memoranda, and that’s not counting guidance, administrative interpretations and other bits of “regulatory dark matter” used to promulgate policy.

Read more of this The Wall Street Journal op-ed by The Editorial Board by clicking here.

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