Republican nominee Donald Trump gave a speech on Monday outlining his economic plans. While the speech was quickly overshadowed by Trump's inflammatory remarks on Tuesday, it is worth dwelling on because it was one of the more substantive moments in the Trump campaign. On regulatory policy, it mostly reflected Republican orthodoxy that will continue to hold sway after this election. And there were numerous assertions in it that were very misleading. Let's look at the specific language Trump used.
"It is estimated that current overregulation is costing our economy as much as $2 trillion dollars a year."
This estimate comes from a study often cited by Republican politicians. The report itself notes that "our estimate says little about the benefits of regulation, aside from those that are captured in GDP [gross domestic product]," a qualifier that is left out of the political rhetoric. Regulations have benefits in addition to costs and when people live longer, are healthier and the financial system is more secure, the economy is stronger.
It's legitimate to doubt whether the benefits of regulation outweigh the costs, but there is no question that by just mentioning the costs, Trump and others give an entirely inaccurate picture of the impact of regulations on the economy. This claim is false.
"The Federal Register is now over 80,000 pages long. As The Wall Street Journal noted, President Obama has issued close to 400 new major regulations since taking office, each with a cost to the American economy of $100 million or more."
The Federal Register, which contains new regulations but also proposed regulations, meeting announcements and other documents, did indeed number over 80,000 pages in 2015. While the page estimate is misleading (there weren't 80,000 pages of regulation), more Federal Register pages is almost certainly correlated with more regulations. And the estimate of 400 new major regulations is actually lower than reality. Of course, many of these regulations have benefits in addition to costs. This claim is true but slightly misleading.
"In 2015 alone, the Obama administration unilaterally issued more than 2,000 new regulations."
The vast majority of regulations issued by any administration are very minor. They include airworthiness directives approving specific new airplane parts by the Federal Aviation Administration. They include announcements of hunting seasons by the Department of the Interior. They include decisions on imports of fruit by the Department of Agriculture. As a result, there are nearly 2000 new regulations every year by every administration. And they are not issued "unilaterally." They are issued according to well-established laws and procedures and are judicially reviewable. This claim is highly misleading.
What about candidate Trump's prescriptions?
"Upon taking office, I will issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations."
As Cass Sunstein notes, legal requirements will make a complete moratorium impossible. But it is actually easy and somewhat trivial for a new president to say that he or she will not issue new regulations for the first few months of his or her administration. The beginning of an administration is the quietest time in the regulatory world as new appointees are confirmed and are then deciding upon their priorities. So a short moratorium with an exception for emergencies and legal requirements is possible, but largely trivial. A longer one will likely be challenged in court and found illegal.
"I will ask each and every federal agency to prepare a list of all of the regulations they impose on Americans which are not necessary, do not improve public safety and which needlessly kill jobs. Those regulations will be eliminated."
Assuming President TrumpDonald TrumpWendy Sherman takes leading role as Biden's 'hard-nosed' Russia negotiator Senate needs to confirm Deborah Lipstadt as antisemitism envoy — Now Former acting Defense secretary under Trump met with Jan. 6 committee: report MORE could identify the small number of regulations that may meet all of these criteria, repealing them is likely to be very difficult. The new president would have to go through a multiyear regulatory process and demonstrate that indeed these regulations were not legally required or no longer fulfilling their purpose. In other words, he would have to adopt Obama's process for retrospective review of regulations. Once complete, any repeal of a controversial regulation would be challenged in court with a very uncertain outcome.
We expect politicians to exaggerate claims and make promises that likely stretch beyond what is possible. Democrats do this as well as Republicans. Trump, of course, has pushed this reality further than any candidate in memory, however. While the claims and prescriptions regarding regulation contained in Trump's speech may sound a bit more realistic than some of his other ideas, in reality they stand up to scrutiny about as much as building a wall and having Mexico pay for it.
Shapiro is an associate professor and director of the Public Policy Program at Rutgers University and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network.
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