Amid much controversy, and widespread opposition, the Federal Communications Commission Thursday repealed the Obama era regulations on net neutrality. While much deserving of attention in its own right, the FCC decision is also noteworthy because it is the first significant regulation that the Trump administration has removed from the books without the help of Congress.
You wouldn’t think this was true if you watched President Trump’s news conference on deregulation. The president claimed that his administration has eliminated 22 regulations for every regulation it has issued.
This claim is a gross exaggeration of the deregulatory activity of the Trump administration. It includes actions such as delaying regulations that were not yet in effect. Some of these rules will eventually be published. In other cases, agencies have been sued over their delays and may be forced to rescind them The ratio may also include proposals that the Trump administration will never finalize (but were not actually in effect) and counting multiple repeals of the same regulation.
The number does correctly include 15 regulations repealed using the Congressional Review Act But President TrumpDonald TrumpOhio Republican who voted to impeach Trump says he won't seek reelection Youngkin breaks with Trump on whether Democrats will cheat in the Virginia governor's race Trump endorses challenger in Michigan AG race MORE did little to actually repeal these regulations besides sign resolutions passed by Congress. If anyone should get credit for these repeals, it is frequent Trump target, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham: Police need 'to take a firm line' with Sept. 18 rally attendees Manchin keeps Washington guessing on what he wants CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' MORE. whose deft management of the Senate calendar allowed for more repeals than most experts were expecting.
The net neutrality repeal is therefore the first significant deregulatory action that the Trump administration has itself taken. Even net neutrality repeal is not really final since the repeal will be challenged in court and stands a reasonable chance of being overturned.
Interestingly, Trump did not mention the net neutrality repeal in his deregulation event. He also omitted another of his administration’s chief deregulatory accomplishments. Agencies under this administration have significantly scaled back their enforcement of existing regulations The Trump administration has recognized that one does not have to get rid of a regulation, if you simply ignore its enforcement.
Why would Trump ignore both net neutrality and decreased enforcement when touting his deregulatory accomplishments? It’s simply because statements like “we’re allowing companies to charge you more for some internet services,” and “we’re not enforcing laws we don’t like,” don’t have the same ring as making exaggerated claims that regulations have been eliminated. Repealing net neutrality is not an action with popular appeal. Neither is neglecting the enforcement of regulations.
This is the problem faced by advocates of deregulation. Regulations have benefits as well as costs. And repealing them hurts those beneficiaries. Eliminating regulations in general has rhetorical appeal but eliminating particular ones can be very unpopular.
Trump also said that his administration may be able to stop deregulating after 2018 because there won’t be any targets left for him to cut. If he keeps up the same pace of deregulation in 2018 as he did in 2017, that may mean a whopping two or three major deregulatory accomplishments for this administration.
Stuart Shapiro is professor and director of the Public Policy Program at the Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University, and a member of the Scholars Strategy Network. Follow him on Twitter @shapiro_stuart.