Congressional bills get all the attention. They even get a Schoolhouse Rock song. When an important law gets passed, there’s usually a presidential signing, pens get handed out, and handshakes all around for a job well done. But is the job done? Often, it is only half done.
To put laws into effect, agencies must issue regulations that explain just out how the laws will actually operate. Think of it this way: Laws are like architects establishing plans for what should be built. But regulations are the construction crews putting in place all of the individual pieces needed to pull off the larger vision. They build the framework to ensure clean air, safe food, energy efficient appliances, oversight for Wall Street, safe prescription drugs and other products, and a lot more.
That’s because regulations are where government gets very real for businesses and people. They cost money to implement, can require significant changes to how people do things, and land some people in hot water when they fail to comply. But those same regulations provide enormous benefits to all of us and they form the basis for civil society and democratic practice. Figuring out the best ways to protect the public and limit the costs on those being regulated is one of the most important jobs of the executive branch.
Unfortunately, the current conversation in DC isn’t really about how we can make regulations better or improve the process. Instead, the president seems intent on shutting down new regulations and cutting as many existing regulations as quickly as possible. And Congress is speeding through legislation to help him out.
For example, Trump’s executive order instructing agencies to identify two regulations for elimination for every new one introduced is an ill-conceived and irrational rule whose only beneficiary is big business. The president has claimed that there are huge numbers of duplicative regulations and promised to cut regulations by 75%, maybe more.
Are many regulations long and complicated? Sure.
But is there a quick and easy way to eliminate three-quarters of all regulations without weakening the protections they provide to the American people? No way.
It’s a pipe dream. There is simply no evidence to suggest we have that many unnecessary regulations. If the Trump administration carries through with this plan to take a chainsaw to our existing regulations, they shouldn’t be surprised when the protections they offer come crashing down on our heads.
Look no further than the Trump White House’s action to suspend implementation of a regulation called the Fiduciary Rule, which would’ve required financial advisers to legally act in their clients’ best interests.
It sounds like a no-brainer. When you go to the doctor, you expect the best medical advice, not to be steered toward some drug the doctor gets a kickback for (in fact, there is a regulation to ensure this happens). The Fiduciary Rule seeks to ensure a similar protection for you and your money when you go to a financial broker.
The Obama administration spent six years working on the Fiduciary Rule, including making it easier for companies to implement. But Trump wasted no time instructing the Department of Labor to suspend its implementation (while they reportedly consider changing it or repealing it entirely).
This can only be explained as a concession to industry groups who fear the rule will cut into the profit margins of brokers. When regular folks take huge losses in their retirement funds while their shady advisors continue to line their pockets and get rich, we won’t have to wonder how this could’ve happened. It will be because we got rid of the regulation preventing it.
There are legitimate issues to discuss about regulations and how they are made. Could we do them faster? Can they be simpler? Can we make the process more open? Can we modernize them and make them less burdensome? Those are good and complicated debates that we should have. But if we continue to run after quick-fix schemes, and wage a slash and burn campaign on existing regulations we are only going to cause more problems. That’s a shame because Americans support and deserve a sensible regulatory regime.