Fewer than 70 days into the new administration and some in the media are already writing and talking about the “do-nothing” Congress and presidential administration, which critics allege have yet to accomplish anything significant.
Regardless of what you might hear from their critics, you shouldn’t believe these baseless accusations. In less than three months, President Trump and Congress have done a lot. Most of their early actions are getting relatively no attention, however, which is occurring for a number of reasons, including the fact most members of the mainstream media are big-government liberals who dislike Mr. Trump and Congress for what they’ve achieved.
The laws passed and executive orders issued by Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans are substantially different than those actions taken by most previous administrations. Rather than expand the size and scope of the federal government, Mr. Trump and the GOP have worked to reduce government’s influence on society — in large part by reversing or blocking “midnight” regulations enacted by Obama administration officials before they finally made their way out the door at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in January.
Republicans have long-claimed their party is the champion of limited government, but since Ronald Reagan was president in 1980s, they have done relatively little to back up the claim. Instead, Republican presidents have often pushed their own brand of activism that grew government, including No Child Left Behind, the creation of the Transportation Security Administration, the expansion of prescription drug coverage, a ban on imported semi-automatic rifles, and the creation of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change.
When Republican presidents weren’t busy doing their best impression of big-government Democrats, Republican-controlled Congresses repeatedly failed to block regulations they said are illegal and passed budgets that increased government’s power and control.
Thus far, this trend seems to have halted with the Trump administration. Mr. Trump issued an executive order that ultimately ensured the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project President Barack Obama blocked in the waning days of his administration to appease his radical environmental allies.
Mr. Trump also issued an executive order to force reconsideration of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule, which would have greatly expanded the federal government’s control over private property across the United States. Federal courts had previously stayed WOTUS, out of the suspicion it unconstitutionally ignored previous Supreme Court wetlands decisions. Now, Trump ordered EPA to reconsider the rule and has decided not to defend it in court.
Arguably the most far-reaching executive order Mr. Trump has issued is his directive for all administrative agencies to remove two regulations for each new regulation they issue.
On the budget front, Mr. Trump has proposed cutting the budgets of the vast majority of the existing regulatory agencies. For instance, he proposed cutting EPA’s budget by more than 25 percent and reducing the agency’s staff by 20 percent. In the process, Trump would end all of EPA’s climate programs.
Other agencies and cabinet offices would also see significant cuts, including a nearly 29 percent cut to the State Department’s budget and an approximately 12 percent cut to the Department of the Interior.
Mr. Trump seems intent to do what he has promised — which greatly conflicts with what other so-called conservatives before him have done — forcing government to focus on its core functions. No more funding for the arts, public television, green-energy boondoggles, or international climate programs on Mr. Trump’s watch.
Congress has had the power to review and block major regulations since it passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA) in 1996, but it has rarely used it. CRA allows the House and the Senate to pass resolutions of disapproval to block major regulations issued by federal agencies. Despite tens of thousands of regulations being enacted in the 20 years since CRA passed, Congress has used it only three times to block new rules, and only once has a president signed the resolution. (Mr. Obama vetoed the two disapproval resolutions passed during his presidency.)
Mr. Trump’s ascendance seems to finally have stiffened Congress’ backbone, because the House and Senate are now using the CRA with a vengeance. Congress has sent more than a half-dozen CRA resolutions disapproving late-term Obama administration regulations to Trump for his signature, and, incredibly, he’s actually signing them.
Using the CRA, Congress blocked a regulation forcing local school districts to adopt specific federal teacher-preparation programs and directions for how states and school districts must evaluate and report school performance. Congress also prevented regulations that would have taken away senior citizens’ Second Amendment rights if they need help managing their finances.
In its first use of the CRA under Mr. Trump, Congress halted a rule imposed by Mr. Obama that would have unnecessarily threatened over one-third of the nation’s coal-mining jobs. Despite the Interior Department’s own reports showing virtually all coal mines have no off-site impacts and lands are being restored successfully under existing federal and state regulations, Mr. Obama tried to institute a so-called “stream protection rule,” which would have forced the revision of more than 400 regulations.
Contrary to what is being reported, Mr. Trump and Congress are quickly working to achieve one of their most important goals: limiting the size and power of the federal government over people’s lives. And in doing so, they are keeping the commitment they made when they took the oath of office, which requires they uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States.
Let’s hope the progress continues.
• H. Sterling Burnett is a research fellow on energy and the environment at The Heartland Institute.
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