Feb 14, 2017 - 5:15pm

How Congress and Trump are Taming the Regulatory Leviathan


Senior Editor, Digital Content

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With business leader surrounding him, President Donald Trump signs an executive order taming federal regulators.
With business leader surrounding him, President Donald Trump signs an executive order taming federal regulators.
President Donald Trump signs an executive order taming federal regulators.

After years of talk, Washington is actually starting to tame the regulatory leviathan.

Over the last few days, The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin has written stories about efforts at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to roll back regulations:

One of the most powerful levers is the Congressional Review Act, a 1996 law that gives lawmakers the power to nullify any regulation within 60 days of enactment.

Before Trump took office, the Congressional Review Act had been successfully used only once, to overturn a Clinton administration ergonomics rule in 2001. So far this year, the House has moved to nullify eight new rules and is considering dozens more.

For instance, Congress has used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to disapprove a number of energy and federal contractor regulations.

At the White House, Eilperin reports, the administration has taken steps to reduce red tape:

President Trump’s Jan. 30 executive order got plenty of attention for the provision that would eliminate two regulations for every new one that’s issued. “So if there’s a new regulation, they have to knock out two,” he told reporters when he signed it last month.

But the real power of the measure — if it’s strictly implemented — is a different provision. That provision dictates that “the total cost of all new regulations, including repealed regulations, to be finalized this year shall be no greater than zero, unless otherwise required by law or consistent with advice provided in writing by the Director of the Office of Management and Budget.”

Neil Bradley, senior vice president and chief policy officer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview that it is the net-zero cost formula that “really can have a profound impact. It gives you a new target for when you’re writing regulations.”

This is in contrast with the previous administration putting out billion-dollar regulations on a regular basis.

With regulatory reform top of mind in Washington, D.C., now is the time to seriously think about how federal regulations get made. While the Constitution requires a lot of effort to write a new law, over the decades it’s become relatively easy for federal agencies to write regulations that have the full weight of law. At the same time, federal courts have given agencies tremendous deference to their rules.

There is a way to fix our broken the regulatory process—a way to make federal agencies more accountable to the public, more transparent about why and how they regulate, and increase the levels of public participation as regulations are developed.

The Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) modernizes the process and targets the rules that have the biggest effects on the economy and job creation. As a letter from 616 business groups to Senate leadership explains:

The RAA builds on established principles of fair regulatory process and review that have been embodied in bipartisan executive orders dating to at least the Clinton administration. The RAA stands for good governance and getting rules right by bringing transparency, accountability, and integrity to the rulemaking process at federal agencies. With the passage of RAA, Congress would be restoring the checks granted to it by the Constitution over a federal regulatory bureaucracy that is opaque, unaccountable, and at times overreaching in its exercise of authority.

If the Senate follows the House in passing the RAA, and with President Trump’s signature, small companies along with their larger counterparts would see a great weight lifted off them, and find it easier to grow their businesses and create more jobs.

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About the Author

About the Author

Sean Hackbarth standing in front of oil pumps near Baker, Montana.
Senior Editor, Digital Content

Sean has written for various Chamber properties since 2012. In 1999, Sean launched a “weblog” and never looked back, becoming a self-proclaimed pioneer of the medium.