Trump's regulatory freeze goes further than Obama's

Trump's regulatory freeze goes further than Obama's
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A regulatory freeze is typical at the beginning of a new administration, but President Trump’s order appears to be more expansive than his predecessor's. 

White House chief of staff Reince Priebus sent a memo to the leaders of federal agencies after Trump’s inauguration advising them not to issue any more regulations. 

While the order borrows language from the one issued by former President Obama’s White House in 2009, it also added new restrictions, according to groups that closely track the regulatory process.

James Goodwin, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Progressive Reform, said Obama gave agencies discretion over whether to delay rules that had already been published in the Federal Register, telling them to “consider” a 60-day extension. 

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Priebus, however, told agencies to “temporarily postpone their effective date for 60-days.” 

Another change: The directive from Priebus appears to apply to non-binding agency guidance, as well.

"I think this is a signal … that there’s a new sheriff in town," Goodwin said.

"As president, when you send a memo like this, you're declaring under no uncertain terms that the buck stops with you on regulatory policy."

Goodwin said some of the rules that have been published aren’t even controversial, adding that industry typically welcomes the guidance from agencies. 

“There are a couple guidance documents they dislike, but for political reasons, so they’re going after the entire enterprise,” he said. 

But Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at the conservative American Action Forum, said agency guidance is already something that can be easily revoked.

“Guidance can turn pretty quickly,” he said. “I don’t think it’s that big of an issue.”

In 2009, Batkins said, it was March before the Obama administration issued any major rules. He expects the regulatory freeze to thaw under Trump around the same time. 

When you consider the thousands of jobs left to fill in the administration, Batkins said, it makes sense to halt all agency action until after the confirmation process moves along.

“If we’re talking in November and there still hasn’t been any regulation, it will have been pretty unprecedented,” he said. “But I don’t think you can find a huge difference between what happened in 2017 and 2009.” 

Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, said the regulatory freeze adds to the uncertainty about the future of public health and safety protections under the Trump administration.

With the White House imposing a hiring freeze for the federal workforce, and Republicans working on a list of regulations to repeal by way of the Congressional Review Act, Gilbert said it’s a “scary” time. 

“There’s a lack of understanding of what rules do to keep our environment safe and protect our financial system,” she said.

The memo from Priebus has also sparked some confusion over whether the freeze applies to independent agencies like the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). 

In a letter to CFPB Director Richard Cordray last week, the Credit Union National Association’s President and CEO Jim Nussle asked the bureau to suspend all rulemaking activity in accordance with the government-wide freeze. 

“A moratorium will give credit unions time to catch up with all of the recently imposed requirements and it will give the bureau time to figure out how to focus its rules on Wall Street and get out of the way of Main Street,” he wrote. 

The CFPB and SEC did not respond to requests for comment.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Cordray said bureau lawyers are evaluating the directive signed on Jan. 20 and how it might apply to independent agencies like CFPB.