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President Trump To Cut Regulations By '75 Percent' — How Real Is That?

Jan 24, 2017
Originally published on January 24, 2017 12:21 pm

In a meeting with business leaders, President Trump on Monday made an eyebrow-raising claim.

As part of an effort to make America more business-friendly, Trump said: "We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent. Maybe more, but by 75 percent."

Republicans do seem serious about some kind of regulatory reform. But even conservative economists say that number is not believable.

It has been said that the president likes to have an adversary. And at the meeting, Trump took aim at government regulations that stifle business.

"We're gonna be cutting regulation massively," the president said. "The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can't do anything. You can't, I have people that tell me they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product."

Of course, there are all kinds of government regulations. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration aims to keep workers safe. The Food and Drug Administration makes sure we have food that's safe to eat. The Environmental Protection Agency protects the environment.

Trump suggested that there wouldn't be a downside to the important goals of the nation's myriad federal regulations.

"Now we're gonna have regulation," he said, "and it's gonna be just as strong and just as good and just as protective of the people as the regulation we have right now."

"We're gonna take care of the environment, we're gonna take care of safety and all of the other things we have to take care of," said the president.

It's a bit unclear what Trump means when he says he thinks he can cut "75 percent" of regulations. Does that mean of all government regulations? Or 75 percent of the burden on American businesses overall? And even if that were possible, how could that be done with no downside to the important missions of regulators?

Peter Van Doren is an economist with the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank. He edits Cato's quarterly journal, Regulation. NPR asked him if Trump's "75 percent" statement was realistic or if it makes any sense.

Van Doren chuckled and said, "Well, President Trump, he's about signaling."

Van Doren says that as an economist, he's a bit more delicate than the media.

"We have all these fancy words for what you might call 'lying,' " Van Doren said. "This is a game and Trump is signaling his supporters that he's serious."

But Van Doren says if history is any guide, no president has been able to undo that many federal regulations. So Van Doren says it won't be 75 percent or even massive. "I think it's gonna be probably somewhere in the moderate to small range."

It appears this is the latest in a serious of exaggerations or some previously reported falsehoods in the president's first few days in office.

Still, Republicans do seem serious about regulatory reform. Philip Wallach is a political scientist at the more liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. He says lawmakers are introducing bills such as "the SCRUB Act, which would create a commission specifically designed to find old regulations that are not worth their cost and get them revised or deleted."

Wallach thinks there could be some meaningful culling of regulations. He says some of that could be a good thing — to get rid of pointless red tape where it exists, if it's truly pointless.

He also notes that Republicans don't have a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate. So Wallach says Democrats will have to choose their battles, but in many cases they could block the repeal of what they think are really good regulations.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

President Trump made an eyebrow-raising claim yesterday. As part of an effort to make America more business friendly, the president said he thinks his administration can eliminate 75 percent or more of government regulations. Three out of every four government regulations can be eliminated, he said. Even conservative economists are skeptical of this idea. Though, Republicans do seem serious about some kind of regulatory reform. Here's NPR's Chris Arnold.

CHRIS ARNOLD, BYLINE: It's been said that President Trump likes to have an adversary, and at a meeting with the CEOs of big manufacturing companies, the enemy was government regulations that stifle business. Mr. Trump said, quote, "we're going to be cutting regulation massively."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The problem with the regulation that we have right now is that you can't do anything. You can't - I have people that tell me they have more people working on regulations than they have doing product.

ARNOLD: Of course, there are all kinds of government regulations. OSHA aims to keep workers safe. The FDA makes sure we have food that's safe to eat. The EPA protects the environment. Mr. Trump said basically there will be no downside.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We're going to take care of the environment. We're going to take care of safety and all of the other things we have to take care of.

ARNOLD: And then the president said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent, maybe more, but by 75 percent.

ARNOLD: Now, it's a bit unclear what that means. Seventy-five percent of all government regulations, 75 percent of the burden on American businesses overall? We called up the Cato Institute. It's a free market think tank. Peter Van Doren edits Cato's quarterly journal which is called Regulation, and we played Trump's claim for him.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TRUMP: We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent.

ARNOLD: So what's your take? Is that sort of a realistic statement?

PETER VAN DOREN: (Laughter).

ARNOLD: Or does that make any sense or what's your take on it?

VAN DOREN: Well, it's not - I mean, President Trump - he's about signaling.

ARNOLD: That's how Van Doren describes it.

VAN DOREN: We have all these fancy words for what you might call lying. (Laughter) And so this is a game. And Trump is signaling his supporters that he's serious.

ARNOLD: But Van Doren says no president's been able to undo that many regulations ever, so he says it won't be 75 percent or even massive.

VAN DOREN: I think it's going to be probably somewhere in the moderate to small range.

ARNOLD: Still, many Republicans do have serious ambitions about cutting red tape. Philip Wallach is a political scientist at the more liberal-leaning Brookings Institution. He says lawmakers are introducing bills, for example...

PHILIP WALLACH: The Scrub Act which would create a commission specifically designed to find old regulations that are not worth their costs and get them revised or deleted.

ARNOLD: Wallach thinks there could be some meaningful culling of regulations. He says some of that might be a good thing. And he says Republicans do not have 60 votes in the Senate, so he says Democrats in some cases could block the repeal of what they think are really good regulations. Chris Arnold, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.