It is easy to overlook some things in the daily stream of troubling news about Donald Trump's White House transition. But his promise to gut 90 percent of federal regulations, and the potentially catastrophic consequences, deserve close attention.
During a recent Today Show interview, President-elect Donald Trump mentioned in passing a serious escalation of his previous promise to gut federal regulations once he takes office.
LAUER: Your comments about Boeing — by the way, shortly after you made those comments, the market value of Boeing dropped about a billion dollars in a matter of minutes before rebounding later in the day. But your comments on Boeing came just a short while after an article came out where the CEO of Boeing was critical of your trade policies. So was this in the end about the price of those planes, or was this about retribution?
TRUMP: Well, only the planes because I didn't see an article where he was critical of trade policies. My trade policies are going to be terrific. And by the way, we're lowering taxes in this country. We're getting rid of 90 percent, maybe 85 percent, of the regulations which are stifling business. Boeing is going to be a tremendous beneficiary of that.
Gutting regulations has long been a theme of Trump's politics, and while that 90 percent is an increase from the 70 percent he used to promise (or the 10 percent his campaign once said he wanted to cut), it is the uninformed and capricious way he is promising deregulation which is truly insidious.
While he has no problem with regulations that allow him to stymie free speech, Trump has been selling his supporters on a blunt plan to have his department heads slash regulations. The plan includes "a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations that are not compelled by Congress or public safety," a frightening concept given the proclivities of the picks Trump has made thus far.
Andrew Puzder, the fast-food CEO whom Trump has nominated for Secretary of Labor, has spoken out against raising the minimum wage, employee break times, and overtime pay. And Trump's choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, is a climate change denier who was described by a DNC spokesperson as a "puppet of Big Oil."
The idea of either of these men having the power to determine which regulations within the purview of their respective departments are "wasteful and unnecessary" is troubling, to put it mildly.
That slash from the inside ethos could also potentially extend to his selection to head the Food and Drug Administration, which Trump has long promised to greatly obliterate. Already an opponent of necessities like "inspections of food 'facilities'" and "farm and food production hygiene," Trump is currently mulling a director for the FDA who has "no scientific background and little healthcare-related experience" and who has suggested changes to clinical trials so that the FDA "is approving drugs after their sponsors have demonstrated safety and let people start using them."
Meanwhile, Trump Secretary of the Interior-designate Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), if his appointment survives an emerging travel fraud scandal, will be charged with protecting and conserving the federal lands he has heretofore made easier to exploit, a choice sure to please the Cliven Bundy wing of the Republican base. And Energy Secretary-designate Rick Perry doesn't even want there to be a Department of Energy.
Finally, Trump has named Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn to be his "regulatory czar," who will help Trump select powerful regulatory figures like the chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. The damage that Icahn could do to regulations within his own industry is staggering, like making a fox Secretary of Henhouses. In a statement, DNC Deputy Communications Director Eric Walker expressed alarm:
“This is a quid-pro-quo 25 years in the making. In the early 1990s, Icahn came to Trump’s rescue as his casino business was failing. Today, Trump made Icahn the regulatory czar of his administration.
“Icahn has billions in stock holdings, and according to the Wall Street Journal, he is already ‘playing a central role’ in selecting the next Chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission. Now, he will also be in charge of overseeing regulatory overhauls while simultaneously controlling or owning stock in companies that could benefit from the changes he makes. It looks like Trump isn’t the only billionaire set to profit off of the presidency.
“The corrupt nature of this arrangement cannot be understated. Voters who wanted Trump to drain the swamp just got another face full of mud.”
Walker is referring to Icahn's and Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross' instrumental roles in keeping Trump's Taj Mahal casino out of foreclosure in the early 90s, which could have harmed Trump's future business prospects.
Trump's assault on regulations that protect Americans has other help, as well. With Trump in the White House and both houses of Congress under Republican control, and thanks to a decades-old law, numerous recent regulations put in place by the Obama administration could be easily wiped out:
Under a seldom used law, the next Congress could quickly overturn more than 100 major regulations recently finalized by the Obama administration, including rules that aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, protect sensitive environments from energy development, improve nutrition labels on food products, and regulate electronic cigarettes.
And once Congress has acted to reject a regulation, federal agencies are barred from reissuing “substantially similar” rules unless lawmakers allow it.
Realistically, Trump is unlikely to be able to get rid of anywhere near the number of regulations he is proposing. But his consistent rhetoric alongside his worrisome picks to head various federal agencies demonstrates an eager willingness to go as far as checks and balances will allow him.