The Trump administration has made progress in rolling back parts of the “administrative state” but hasn’t made a significant dent in the nearly $2 trillion annual cost of federal regulations, according to a report released Tuesday.
Federal regulations were costing the economy $1.9 trillion at the end of 2018 — about in line with where things stood a year earlier and toward the end of the Obama administration, according to the report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a free-market think tank.
“Despite the progress made on regulatory reform under President Trump, American consumers and businesses are still on the hook for the ‘hidden tax’ of federal regulation,” said Clyde Wayne Crews Jr., the author of the report.
Federal agencies spent $71 billion enforcing all their rules in 2018, up about 5% from last year and 13% from five years ago, Mr. Crews found.
The administration issued 3,368 rules in 2018. That’s up from the 3,281 final rules issued in 2017 — though still an improvement from the 1990s and 2000s, when they regularly topped 4,000 a year, the report said.
The page count for the Federal Register, the general clearinghouse for government regulations, reached 63,645 at the end of 2018. That’s up from the 61,308 at the end of 2017, though it’s still well below the record 95,894 the federal government recorded in 2016 under President Barack Obama.
In 2018, the federal government issued regulations at a rate of 11 for every law Congress enacted. That “Unconstitutionality Index” was down from 34 rules for every law passed by Congress in 2017 and below the average ratio of 28-to-one over the last decade.
“The reality is that the administrative state is alive and well, powering ahead, and the president alone can only do some very limited streamlining,” Mr. Crews wrote in his report.
President Trump recently gave himself historically positive remarks for chipping away at regulations.
“We’ve cut regulations more than any president in the history our country. And that’s in two years,” he said at the National Rifle Association’s annual meetings last month. “It’s one of the reasons our jobs are booming, one of the reasons the economy is booming.”
The administration estimated that in fiscal 2018, it took 176 deregulatory actions — including 57 “significant” actions — as it aimed for a “one in, two out” policy that for every new regulation proposed, an agency had to identify at least two regulations to be repealed.
Combined with 2017 actions, the moves generated an estimated savings of more than $30 billion. That’s notable, but is still dwarfed by the overall context of $1.9 trillion in regulatory costs.
“That progress is further threatened by President Trump’s own regulatory impulses on issues ranging from antitrust enforcement to trade restrictions to food and drug matters, and more,” Mr. Crews said.
He cited one estimate that the administration’s tariffs on various imported goods were reducing U.S. real income by $1.4 billion per month by the end of 2018 — which by itself would overtake the claimed regulatory savings of $31.6 billion for 2017 and 2018 within two years.
The administration last month did take new steps on the deregulatory front, directing federal agencies to comply with a 1996 law known as the Congressional Review Act in an effort to slow the development of certain new “major” rules.
Democrats and some interest groups have criticized the administration’s deregulatory push, saying it has hurt areas ranging from consumer protection to airline safety.
“Clearly this memo is designed to seize power from independent agencies for the political benefit of the president,” said Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with the group Public Citizen.
“A pruned weed is a healthy weed when it comes to the administrative state’s half-hearted rollbacks, so expectations for executive-branch-only reforms must be tempered,” he said in the report.
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