Talk show impresario Bill Maher called it “terrorist,” but White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon’s declaration during last week’s CPAC was anything but.
Bannon captured the most important theme of the conservative conference with a simple statement outlining one of the top goals of the Trump administration: deconstructing the administrative state.
As the nation faced a time of economic peril and international chaos, President Ronald Reagan signaled a similar theme in his 1981 inaugural address: "In our present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem. Governmentis the problem."
Reagan went on to describe how it would be essential to "check and reverse the growth and power of government, which shows signs of having grown beyond the consent of the governed."
Fast forward to 2017, and the administrative state Reagan warned about has seized the practical levers of power. The Obama presidency was a mastery of regulatory manipulation, not only in rushing through complex formal regulations, but also in issuing mandates variously called "interpretive rules," "guidance," and "Dear Colleague" letters that have been treated by the permanent bureaucracy as equal to the law itself.
Unwinding this complex web of non-legislative lawmaking has required constant litigation, often described by constitutional public interest law firms like mine as a "game of Whack-a-Mole."
Cass Sunstein, Obama’s regulatory czar through 2012, proudly declared in 2016 that rolling back regulations imposed by Obama is "a lot harder than you might think . . . if the executive branch operates at great speed, it might be able to get through the process of eliminating a single regulation in about a year."
Without hesitation, President Trump has taken on the challenge of "operating at great speed." The first batch of executive orders and actions could best be described as "pumping the brakes" on the ever-expanding authority of the permanent bureaucracy, despite a dearth of mainstream media coverage on these key efforts at "deconstruction."
1) Jan. 20, 2017: Obamacare Executive Order to "waive, defer, grant exemptions from, or delay the implementation of any provision or requirement of the Act that would impose a fiscal burden on any State or a cost, fee, tax, penalty, or regulatory burden on individuals, families, or healthcare providers" as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is in the repeal process.
2) Jan. 20, 2017: Executive Memorandum ordering that new regulations must freeze until agency heads selected by the Trump administration are in place to review and approve them.
3) Jan. 23, 2017: Executive Memorandum ordering an across-the-board federal hiring freeze, lasting approximately 90 days.
4) Jan. 24, 2017: Executive Order to speed up the often years-long environmental review and approval for high-priority infrastructure projects to cut unnecessary costs and delays.
5) Jan. 24, 2017: Executive Memorandum ordering the moribund Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipeline projects to move forward, utilizing American-made pipeline materials.
6) Jan. 24, 2017: Executive Memorandum ordering expedited approvals for new manufacturing construction in the U.S.
7) Jan. 30, 2017: Executive Order mandating that for every new rule, two existing rules must be identified for elimination, and ordering agencies to produce ‘real-life’ economic impact reports for every regulation to better reflect the actual costs of regulations.
8) Feb. 3, 2017: Executive Order outlining Core Principles on regulating the financial system, including guidance on avoiding taxpayer-funded bailouts and to revisit the market-killing constraints of the 2010 Dodd-Frank law.
9) Feb. 24, 2017: Executive Order directing every federal agency to create a Regulatory Reform Task Force, headed by an appointed Regulatory Reform Officer who will report to the White House once a week on progress toward eliminating or reducing costly regulatory burdens.
10) Feb. 28, 2017: Executive Order abandoning the so-called WOTUS Rule ("waters of the United States") enforced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers, describing the Obama-era rule as a vast overreach of the Clean Water Act — a case currently being made in court by states and constitutional law firms.
Constitutionalists, conservatives, and libertarians were quick to decry Obama’s aggressive use of "the pen and the phone" in his drive to enact sweeping administrative controls.
The common thread in Obama’s executive actions was expansion of federal reach and power, often beyond the four corners of existing law. So far, Trump-era executive actions uniformly reverse federal expansion of administrative power, limiting the authority of agencies to control economic liberty.
It’s a powerful start toward deconstructing the administrative state, and one that must now be constitutionally confirmed by Congress.
Todd Young serves as Executive Director for Southeastern Legal Foundation (SLF), an Atlanta-based national constitutional public interest law firm founded in 1976. In his role at SLF, he has worked closely in an advisory capacity with former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese III, former Independent Counsel Judge Kenneth Starr, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, and various members of Congress and state governors and attorneys general. To read more of his reports — Go Here Now.
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