WASHINGTON — President Trump vowed Thursday to step up his war on government regulations, saying his ultimate goal is to shrink the code of federal regulations to its 1960 level.
“The never-ending growth of red tape in America has come to a sudden, screeching and beautiful halt,” Trump said.
In a White House photo op, Trump took a pair of gold scissors to a ribbon linking two mounds of paper — one representing regulations as they existed in 1960 and the other representing today’s code.
The 1960 code: about 20,000 pages. Today: more than 185,000.
The event marked the release of a usually unheralded government document called the Unified Agenda of Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, a semiannual update of rules that federal agencies have in the pipeline.
“We’re going to cut a ribbon because we’re getting back below the 1960 level, and we’ll be there fairly quickly,” he said.
But just an hour later, Trump’s regulation czar suggested it wouldn’t be that easy. “I think returning to 1960s levels would likely require legislation. It’s hard for me to know what that looks like,” said Neomi Rao, the director of the White House’s Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. “Deregulation also takes time. If we’re doing something consistent with law, it takes time to reduce rules.”
Trump signed an executive order in January requiring agencies to repeal two regulations for every new regulation adopted.
On Thursday, Trump claimed that the initiative has exceeded his expectations, with 67 regulations rescinded and just three adopted — a ratio of 22 to 1. And he claimed that repealing those old regulations has saved $8.1 billion in regulatory costs on businesses.
But a closer look at those raw numbers reveals an apples-to-oranges accounting. After Trump signed his two-for-one order, the Office of Management and Budget clarified that the deregulatory actions could include congressional action, unpublished guidance documents, and a reduction in the paperwork burden. And the three new regulations are only those deemed by the administration as economically significant.
Still, the White House has now set a goal for 2018 of repealing three old regulations for every new regulation.
Trump also said his administration has killed 1,579 proposed rules before they were adopted. But that count includes hundreds of regulations that had been all but declared dead for years.
“You can think of those as a group of rules that we’re reconsidering,” Rao said.
One regulation killed by the Trump administration, for example, was a rule first proposed in 1998 on the process for state and local police departments to apply for bulletproof vest grants. Another, relating to harbor maintenance fees, was first proposed in 1992 and has remained on the federal regulatory docket ever since.
Trump insisted that he could accomplish that regulatory rollback without sacrificing the health and safety of American consumers and workers.
“We know that some of the rules contained in these pages have been beneficial to our nation, and we’re going to keep them. We want to protect our workers, our safety, our health, and we want to protect our water, we want to protect our air, and our country’s natural beauty,” he said.
“But every unnecessary page in these stacks represents hidden tax and harmful burdens to American workers and to American businesses.”