July 20, 2020 9:49AM

On Trump’s Regulatory Agenda, Look Past the Props

In a Rose Garden event last Thursday, President Trump orchestrated quite a scene to promote his regulatory agenda. He stood between two massive pickup trucks. To the left, a blue truck sank under an immense load of weights situated in its bed—meant to symbolize the regulatory burden on the American economy. On the other side, a red truck stood tall, because the stress of the weights in its bed was being relieved by a large crane, which flew a banner that read: “Trump Administration.” 

This was the second time the president resorted to props to draw attention to his regulatory work.

During his first December in office, the White House held a similarly themed press conference in the Roosevelt Room, where Trump held a pair of scissors in front of two piles of paper bound by red tape. On one side, five towering stacks were marked with a sign reading “TODAY”; the other paper pile was miniscule in comparison, bedecked simply “1960.”

For both photo ops, Trump’s speeches focused on how his administration had far exceeded his campaign promise to cut at least two rules for every new one. Yet there’s less than meets the eye when it comes to the president’s signature (de)regulatory reform. Rather than reflecting some sort of breakthrough, these slogans (“two‐​for‐​one”!) are simply Trump‐​style branding for routine presidential practice.

All Trump is doing is rethinking the previous administration’s policies, which is what every president does every time there’s a party switch in the Oval Office. When a Democrat follows a Republican, the process entails re‐​regulation; when the roles are reversed, it’s time for deregulation. This wholesale ping‐​ponging of national policy is among the regrettable drawbacks to the vast lawmaking power that Congress has delegated to regulatory agencies since the dawn of the modern administrative state.

But just because the president is selling the sizzle, it doesn’t mean there’s no steak! Indeed, away from the limelight, his administration is preparing a juicy feast of meaningful regulatory reform. In recent pieces for the Washington Examiner, The Regulatory Review, and Real Clear Policy, I discuss this important, yet unheralded, work. Highlights include:

  • Ending a major judicial doctrine that had abetted the rise of the administrative state;
  • Compelling regulatory agencies to publicize their enforcement guidance, so regulated entities know the rules of the game; and,
  • Allowing more public participation and scrutiny for “major” regulations that cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

These structural measures have nothing to do with any particular policy; instead, they improve how regulations are made, as a general matter. Although the president is almost certainly unaware of these reforms, he’s responsible for them. By making regulatory policy a first‐​term priority, he created opportunities for reform‐​minded public servants within his administration, who then proceeded apace.