Don’t believe the hype. President Trump’s last-minute flurry of (de)regulations will not help the economy. But then, they were never really meant to.
For the past four years, the Trump administration has claimed, without evidence, that its deregulatory agenda has turbocharged economic growth. And for four years, surrogates and lazy pundits have repeated this false claim.
They could have simply looked at pre-pandemic trends in, say, gross domestic product growth or hiring and noticed that Trump’s record was nearly identical to President Barack Obama’s. This is despite Obama’s alleged reputation as a job-killing, over-taxing hyper-regulator, and Trump’s as the savior who liberated the economy from Obama.
Or perhaps commentators could have examined what Trump’s deregulations did, and whether it’s remotely plausible that these magic beans could sprout a macroeconomic beanstalk.
So let’s consider some of the record number
of “midnight regulations” the Trump administration is jamming through on its way out the door.
Last week, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an interim decision allowing farmers to use a pesticide linked with brain damage in children. Sure, if you’re one of the few companies whose business model depends on poisoning kids, I get how this is good for you. But as a macro matter, it’s hard to argue with a straight face that more childhood brain damage is good for either children or the economy they may someday contribute to.
A few days later, the EPA finalized a rule rejecting tougher standards on soot, which is emitted by industrial operations, vehicle exhaust, smokestacks and other sources.
This deadly air pollutant is linked with asthma, heart attacks and other illnesses, including covid-19. EPA scientists have noted that these fine particle emissions disproportionately harm low-income and minority communities, and in a draft report last year agency, scientists cited evidence that modestly tightening the standards could save thousands or even tens of thousands of lives per year.
But no matter, big polluters gotta keep polluting — because growth. Or something.
On Wednesday, the EPA finalized a “meta” rule of sorts: one designed to make it harder to issue new clean-air safeguards in the future. It achieves this by rigging the accounting in the cost-benefit analyses required to justify new rules — specifically, by forbidding the agency from counting huge categories of benefits, while still counting all the costs.
This kind of gives away the game. Of course it’s easier to claim that allowing more pollution is good for the economy if you make it a policy to ignore evidence that suggests otherwise.
These are just some of the more than 125 environmental safeguards the Trump administration has been rolling back. More last-minute, pro-pollution EPA rules are expected in the next week; that way, they might be able to legally take effect before Joe Biden becomes president, according to an internal agency email obtained by E&E News.
Other agencies, meanwhile, are rushing to finish up their own 11th-hour poison-pill regulations.
Some would curb visas for international students (whose education-related travel contributed about $44 billion to the U.S. economy last year) and various other legal immigrants. Another would force virtually all existing Medicaid regulations to automatically expire unless re-reviewed by government health officials, who would therefore have to spend all their time making sure the system doesn’t accidentally implode. Yet another would narrow eligibility for food stamps, in the midst of a hunger crisis. Another would allow federally funded homeless shelters to essentially turn away transgender people.
These and other proposed regulatory changes seem more likely to lead to net economic harms, at least if you don’t cook the books. The harms would be disproportionately felt by Trump’s perceived political enemies: immigrants, poor people, transgender Americans and so on. And apparently, any economic damage they incur doesn’t count. Or perhaps it’s even desired.
Yes, the incoming Biden administration can reverse many of these actions. Some reversals are likely to be slow, however, given the cumbersome legal requirements for issuing new regulations. Courts could intervene as well (and they have, with major Trump regulations failing legal challenges more than 80 percent of the time). Trump officials skipped over some procedural requirements to rush rules through before Jan. 20, citing national security emergencies and other (seemingly bogus) grounds. This corner-cutting will make these policies even more vulnerable to legal challenges.
Trump and his underlings know this, of course: They realize their last-minute rule changes will eventually get unwound. But they also know this unwinding process will waste a lot of time, money and government resources.
And hey, what better way to prove you really, truly want to shrink government than by giving it more work to do?
Read more Catherine Rampell: Trump is all about deregulation — except when it comes to his enemies The Post’s View: The Trump administration’s disastrous policy shift on methane emissions Karen Tumulty: Most presidents build libraries to burnish their legacies. Trump is constructing an alternate universe. Greg Sargent: Giuliani’s vile admission perfectly captures the ugliness of the Trump era Robert J. Samuelson: There’s a brawl coming over government regulation