Economy & Budget

The regulations Trump promised to repeal, and what he can actually do

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Like many Republicans, President-elect Donald Trump has campaigned against overly burdensome regulations.

{mosads}Unlike many Republicans — but typical for him — he has made the outrageous claim that he will repeal 70 percent of regulations.

But while Trump will come nowhere near this number, his likely impact on the regulatory state is significant.

In order to understand what Trump can and cannot do, it is useful to divide the types of executive actions that the president-elect will go after into categories. I have divided likely targets into six broad groupings moving from the easiest to repeal to the hardest.

1. Executive orders like those requiring federal contractors to give paid sick leave and a higher minimum wage to their employees.

These can be undone with the stroke of a pen.

2. Regulations issued between now and the end of the Obama administration that are not yet effective when Trump takes office.

No one knows which regulations will come out, but speculation includes ones on occupational exposure to beryllium and regulation of online colleges. The effective date on these can be postponed while the Trump administration decides whether to begin rule-makings to reverse them.

3. Regulations that have been issued since late May and are in effect when Trump takes office.

Here, Trump will rely on Congress to use the Congressional Review Act. These include regulations on methane emissions from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and energy efficiency standards.

But Congress is limited in time and capacity, and will have to pick which of these regulations it wants to focus on. Regulations that Congress does not overturn will fall into categories No. 4 and 6.

4. Regulations that are not subject to the Congressional Review Act but are currently in court proceedings, such as EPA’s Clean Power Plan and the Department of Labor regulations on payment for overtime.

The Trump administration could use the court cases to suspend these rules and possibly reach settlements on weakening them. Courts may not look kindly upon these efforts however, and public interest groups are likely to sue over weakened regulations.

5. Designations of national monuments.

President Obama (like all presidents before him) has designated a number of national monuments and may proclaim more in the next two months. The law on reversing these is unclear but no president has ever done so. Attempts to do so would be contested in court and many legal experts consider the likelihood that such cancellations would stand up as small (Trump, however, could restore oil and gas leases that Obama has cancelled.)

6. Established regulations.

This category of course makes up the vast majority of existing regulations. The Trump administration could ask Congress to consider repealing the laws that require these regulations, but many of these laws have broad support (the Clean Air Act) and/or their repeal will be fought by the Democratic minority in the Senate with filibusters (the Affordable Care Act).

Other more realistic options include weakening enforcement of regulations and defunding regulatory agencies. Many private firms however are already in compliance with existing regulations, so the lack of enforcement will only help the bad actors who are violating the regulations.

Finally, the Trump administration could attempt to repeal these regulations individually, but for each of these it is a process that takes several years and requires considerable time and expertise (i.e., the cooperation of the civil servants Trump so casually maligns).

The bottom line is that President-elect Trump will not be able do anything near what he promised in the regulatory arena. That doesn’t mean he can’t do serious damage, though.

Stuart Shapiro is an associate professor and director of the Public Policy Program at Rutgers University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.

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