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Is Donald Trump, of All Presidents, Devolving Power Back to the Legislative Branch?

Contrary to his reputation (and Twitter feed), the president has been selectively trimming executive power.

What does Mark Meadows know that Paul Ryan doesn't? ||| C-SPANC-SPANDonald Trump did not campaign for president as the guy who would reverse the mostly unbroken, century-old trend of the executive power assuming more and more power in the face of an increasingly self-marginalizing Congress. If anything, the imperial presidency looked set to increase given Trump's braggadocious personality and cavalier approach to constitutional restraints. "Nobody knows the system better than me," he famously said during his worryingly authoritarian Republican National Convention speech, "which is why I alone can fix it."

You wouldn't know it from viewing policy through the prism of the president's Twitter feed, which is filled with cajoling and insult toward the legislative branch, but Trump has on multiple occasions taken an executive-branch power-grab and kicked the issue back to Congress, where it belongs. As detailed here last month, the president has taken this approach on Iran sanctions, Obamacare subsidies, and the Deferred Action Against Childhood Arrivals program (DACA), at minimum. And notably, his one Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, was most famous pre-appointment for rejecting the deference that courts have in recent decades given to executive-branch regulatory agencies interpreting the statutory language of legislators.

||| ReasonReasonAre there any other examples? Sure—the 15 regulatory nullifications this year via the Congressional Review Act (14 more than all previous presidents combined) are definitionally power-transfers from the executive to legislative. And certainly, the sharp decreases in the enactment, proposal, and even page-count of regulations amount to the administration declining to exercise as much power as its predecessors.

Over at the Wall Street Journal, Chris DeMuth, former president of the American Enterprise Institute, and Reagan-era administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA), points out some of these underappreciated devolutions, and, with qualified enthusiasm, adds another: Regulatory budget-cutting.

In an executive order issued shortly after taking office, he directed that unless a statute requires otherwise, agencies may issue new regulations only by rescinding two or more existing regulations, with net costs held to an annual budget. His budget for fiscal 2017 was zero, which was easily met after agencies issued few new rules and lawmakers rescinded many under the Congressional Review Act. Now, an OMB directive from [OIRA administrator Neomi] Rao in September has set a goal of "net reduction in total incremental regulatory costs" in fiscal 2018. […]

[A] regulatory budget goes much deeper [than mere cost-benefit analysis of regulations]. It aims not only at restraint but at reforming agency culture. Faced with a two-for-one rule and a requirement to reduce annual costs, regulators will be obliged to monitor the effectiveness of all their rules and to make choices. There will be efforts to game the system, as there always are. But the best game in town may be to shift from maximizing rules to maximizing, within the budget constraint, environmental quality, public health, workplace safety and other regulatory goals. And, in all events, there will be fewer rules!

DeMuth adds, archly, "Many readers may be puzzled that our tempestuous president should preside over the principled, calibrated regulatory reform described here." Bottom line?

With some exceptions (such as business as usual on ethanol), and putting aside a few heavy-handed tweets (such as raising the idea of revoking broadcast licenses from purveyors of "fake news"), President Trump has proved to be a full-spectrum deregulator. His administration has been punctilious about the institutional prerogatives of Congress and the courts. Today there is a serious prospect of restoring the constitutional status quo ante and reversing what seemed to be an inexorable regulatory expansion.

You read it here first.

UPDATE: Josh Blackman has a piece on this topic today over at National Review.

Photo Credit: C-SPAN

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  • colorblindkid||

    Whether or not Trump's presidency is a positive thing in the long run depends on if Americans realize that Trump isn't much different from any other politician or president. He's just a whiny asshole who's really bad at all this lying stuff. People need to realize that all this dysfunction and corruption is a bipartisan problem rampant in Washington.

    Unfortunately, tribalism is getting worse than ever. Instead of Hillary/Trump waking people up to how fucked up everything is, it only caused people to double down in their idiocy.

  • timbo||

    You are correct and certainly tribalism is the desired effect of all politicians. A fighting populous is not paying attention to Washington.

    That said, trump could have been good had he stuck to doing things like this. I have never seen a politician try harder to sabotage his few good things that he started(good judge, roll back regs, good DOE pick, good Sec State, some small gov't things)

    Then he comes right out the box with the military spending, this silly tax increase, more foreign blustering, and he should have sat back and let Obama care founder while pointing out all of the dems and repubs who would not do their jobs.

    His moronic ego got in the way of being a decent prospect. I knew he would be a big government guy. I knew he was an ass. I just hoped a businessman would understand a functional economy better than this guy9i.e. reduce debt, reduce gov't, deduce spending, get our of all of our military entanglements). The other stuff could be tackled after a few short but big steps. .

  • John||

    Trump campaigned on increasing military spending. Most of his supporters want that. You don't, but you didn't vote for Trump and wouldn't even if he wanted to cut military spending.

  • timbo||

    You should relax a bit. I don't normally vote for people who tell me they plan to drive our bankrupt nation further into debt.

    I find that to be the height of stupidity.

    What his supporters should consider is what we get for never ending war. it is the second most expensive thing the US government pours money into.
    A rational discussion should centered around our fiscal status first and foremost which would mean cutting spending across the board before anything else is even considered. That does not happen when millions of jobs are employed in the MIC sector.

  • Cloudbuster||

    You should relax a bit. I don't normally vote for people who tell me they plan to drive our bankrupt nation further into debt.

    So you haven't voted for a Presidential candidate ever?

  • Eman||

    "I don't normally vote for people who tell me they plan to drive our bankrupt nation further into debt", but when i do, theyre not also donald trump?

  • SIV||

    I knew he would be a big government guy.

    Only in the sense that all presidents and their major party general election opponents are "big government guys".

    So far Trump is looking like the best "small government" president since Calvin Coolidge.

  • timbo||

    I have been pleasantly surprised by some of his cuts.

    But they will pale in comparison to the massive spending he is already embarking upon and currently upholding.

    I don't know that I would call him small gov't. He is, after all, preserving the sacred cows of the American gov't that are our biggest yolks around the neck - i.e. the military/industrial complex, entitlement spending, the massive bureaucracy, and of course, no real checks on FED antics.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My belief for this President is:

    1) Ignore what he says completely. It doesn't correlate at all with any action and changes randomly over time.

    2) Give him credit when he does something good.

    3) Criticize when he does something bad.

    The last two are true for all presidents, the first might be uniquely a Trump trait.

  • timbo||

    I just assumed all of his silly tweeting and enraging people is part of the typical distraction tactic practiced by all of these dirt bags.

    At least he is hilarious when he is saying stupid politician shit. Obama and Bush just made me angry at their sheer stupidity and lying.

    This guy is a riot. Thus he will get away with being another useless politician.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    He definitely is funny. I like him for that. As much as the media attempts to paint him as such, I don't believe he's any worse a person than most politicians. We just someone who is always happy to vomit any thought he has onto the nation at large. It is great.

  • Bra Ket||

    I think prior politicians are easily "better people". That doesn't amount to much since good intentions are the most dangerous things imaginable in our political system.

  • p3orion||

    My assumption, fairly or not, has been that the good things coming out of his administration are the work of people he has hired, not Donald himself. In most cases, he seems to have received very good advice, and has been mostly willing to follow it, though I remain skeptical that he understands much of it. The far-too-frequent occasions when we hear what he is really thinking --in tweets or off-the-cuff remarks-- seem markedly different from what actually emerges as policy. Thank God.

  • JWatts||

    "But they will pale in comparison to the massive spending he is already embarking upon and currently upholding."

    Umm, what massive spending ?

  • Tionico||

    so the cows are now eggs round our necks? BIG ones? Must be at least duck eggs. They have REAL big yolks........

    cluck cluck the yolk's on you......

  • Hugh Akston||

    As Trump's administration has aptly demonstrated so far, relying on executive orders to change policy is a nice fish for the seals, but it doesn't lead to lasting reform.

  • John||

    it is hard to rewrite those regs once rescinded that it is to rescind them. Is it possible for a Democratic administration to come in and reimpose them all? Yes, but it won't be easy or quick. Writing regulations is not as simple as just writing them and putting them in the federal register.

    Beyond that, changing the law is up to the Congress. Trump is doing what is in his power to do. You can't blame him if Congress is unwilling to make more permanent changes, which can be overturned by future congress anyway. No change is "lasting" in the sense of it never being subject to repeal or change.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Contrary to his reputation (and Twitter feed), the president has been selectively trimming executive power

    I can see why the left absolutely hates him.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Plus, they thought he was a lefty Democrat.

    Maybe he was then but he is not now.

  • John||

    Trump is just reducing the power of government so he can use that fact to hide that he is really Hitler. Reducing regulations is exactly what Hitler would do.

  • Schizoidman_21||

    Another Hitler dunce!

  • Crusty Juggler||

    You just can't see the eighth dimensional moves he's making.

    I can, because I have my official MAGA Decoder Ring.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Trump is a man who damn sure never forgot his.

  • Schizoidman_21||

    You are literally the town dunce with no clue as to who or what Hitler was.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    the president has been selectively trimming executive power

    'Tis the season.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    Can I just not see it, or has Welch taken a book from the rest of the lazy Reason staffers and stopped creating alt text? I mean, c'mon.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    He doesn't love you anymore.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    He can get in line.

  • lap83||

    the first one has alt-text

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I'm humbled by your serious response.

  • lap83||

    wrong!

    Now if you had just found out that you were part of a microgeneration called Xennials, that would be an appropriate time to use the word
    http://www.businessinsider.com.....and-1985-1

    I'm humbled to be part of such a distinguished group, defined by their nostalgia for Oregon Trail and flip phones. Also, Jared Leto

  • Crusty Juggler||

    I don't wanna belong!

  • BYODB||

    God, how insipid. I'm a part of that group according to them, and my take on that is simply that if you were born during that particular date range you saw first hand the digital revolution and everything that went along with it. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

    This shit reads like astrology though, so this must be their 'cusp' caveat that they use to excuse their own inconsistencies in attempting to create the myth of a collective.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    Oregon Trail was a 16 bit game before that sucky version you all played came out.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    An Oregon Trail hipster?

    We have reached a new low, society.

  • Crusty Juggler||

    How pathetic.

  • lap83||

    I don't even recognize the version depicted in the screenshot in the article. I remember first playing it on an Apple II

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Yeah, I don't know for certain but that picture looks like a Mobile game.

    Apple II version is the one probably most people know. Though the original is from '74 or '75 I think.

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    ^^^

  • lap83||

    OT rant: I'm sick of people using the term "humbled" when they mean "honored"

    Here, I'll try to bring it back to being semi on topic by relating it to Trump. For all his faults I don't think he would pull that BS passive grandstanding move

  • Bacon-Magic glib reasonoid||

    I'm honored to read your first statement...then saddened.

  • lap83||

    I am literally Hitler

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    And those meanings derive from usage in an open-space. They are not absolute. In fact, speech is effectively a marketplace.

  • Rat on a train||

    I will buy a vowel.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    My shit was drilled into me while doing a Linguistics degree, so my guess is that's the key to being a weirdo descriptiveness like myself.

    My guess is the group most okay with language change is that strange cross-cut of people who are okay with change in general. Fear of change is a common thing and is incredibly common for all peoples and beliefs.

  • timbo||

    The only word changers I can think of are the leftists. They changed global warming to climate change to sustainability and now they are going for weather extremes.

    Any time a definition or term needs to be changed, you should know it is bullshit.

    kind of like trannies.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Any institutional change, as Chipper Morning said, is not good. That is word-policing and I am very glad English does not formally have that. Some languages do have formal rule defining institutes, most famously French, but also Japanese and Chinese.

    Other than that, language changes constantly and naturally. Every new word is language change. Every semantic shift in meaning (Gay now is quite different from 100 years ago, and that's not because it was forced from above) is language change. Every accent, every syntactical oddity (Like my favorite, double modals. Which are like "I might could have a drink." which is a southern thing) is language evolving through usage and through outside influence.

    Modern Evolutionary Phonology is (last I checked, I've been out for a few years now and things can move fast) is starting to rely on a very information theoretic model. Where everyone is consciously or subconsciously optimizing our speech so that we can have ourselves understood with the least effort. Which looks a lot like markets in many ways.

  • Tionico||

    prefer to refer to trannies as gearboxes. The PROPER term.....

  • lap83||

    I get the impression that a lot of people don't even care about definitions. They choose words for appearances. Which is one way of communicating, I guess. But if they don't care about the information they are imparting at all, it just seems vacuous

  • Mitsima||

    Trump is becoming the president I had hoped Johnson would have been, but without mentioning any damn cake.

  • colorblindkid||

    With Johnson we'd be seeing a lot fewer people in jail, a lot more immigrants, a lot more legal drugs, and a lot fewer drone strikes.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Well, we'd have a President who was openly for those things, whether or not they would come to pass is unknown.

  • Ama-Gi Anarchist||

    With Johnson we'd be seeing a lot fewer people in jail, a lot more immigrants, a lot more legal drugs, and a lot fewer drone strikes.

    Yep, especially the last one. The more wars we get ourselves into, the deeper hole we're digging for our nation...

  • SIV||

    a lot more legal drugs

    GayJay/Weld campaigned specifically against any non-mj drug legalization. They were worse on the drugs issue than Bob Barr was.

  • Tionico||

    but a LOT more war...... HE is the one hotted up VietNam, got crazy over Cuba, I think he's the one invaded Grenada.. GRENADA?? What a joke!!! Like sending in the SWATS to calm down a bit of a dustup at the old ladies' bingo game Saturday afternoon.

  • Hank Phillips||

    If the Dems valued freedom, they could have copied the LP relegalization plank. Instead they joined the GOP in sending cops to shoot people who cop an occasional buzz. Dems went for the 1931 Liberal Party relegalization plank in 1932, and won in '32, '36, '40, '44 and '48. In each of those elections the GO-Pee tried to get These States to again ban beer. Once hippie dems wake up and find out that they lost because of econazi pseudoscience and George Wallace prohibitionism, the LP should be good for about 9% of the popular vote.

  • Finrod||

    Sunday liquor sales didn't become legal in Georgia until the GOP took over the state legislature.

  • Rebel Scum||

    Contrary to his reputation (and Twitter feed), the president has been selectively trimming executive power

    "Hm. That's not what dictators do. I must re-evaluate my position that Drumpf is literally figuratively Hitler incarnate." - things that progs will never say.

  • timbo||

    You can't un-brainwash people who are stupid enough to be brainwashed.

    The only way to un-brainwash them is to send the military after them in the streets.

    i'll bet a lot of Venezuelans are being un-brainwashed by starvation daily.

  • Tionico||

    Yup. And a lot of Venezolanos are also learning how to live by their OWN wits, someething that does not happen in dictatorships or tyrannies.... one ONLY does what one is told to do. Now they are having to figure things out for themselves. A dangerous circumstance for those who think they are, and will remain, in power.

  • MikeP2||

    "someething that does not happen in dictatorships or tyrannies"

    That is nonsense. The more oppressive the government, the more people strive to work around it. They have always had an enormous black market for goods and US cash, which the Chavezistas tried to deal with before and after his most excellent demise.
    The only change is that the government can no longer maintain basic infrastructure and the economy is collapsing. The people were thinking for themselves before and they are thinking for themselves now. They only difference is where they get their food.

    Probably the best way to judge the freedom of a governmental system, is the size of the black market. more tyranny = large black market

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Exactly. The people with TDS never realized that Trump was using Twitter to speak directly to Americans about what he is thinking and doing with the Executive Branch because the media tries to twist what he is doing as president.

  • Kivlor||

    From the National Review Link: "The Trump vision of regulatory reform," he said, "can be summed up in three simple principles: due process, fair notice, and individual liberty."

    Libertarian Moment?

  • SIV||

    Fuck yeah

    NEVER FORGET: Matt Welch said Hillary Clinton would make a "less worse" president than Trump.

  • damikesc||

    Funny that the candidate this site liked the least is doing the most work to corral the government and shrink it down some.

  • SIV||

    NeverTrumpers gonna Never Trump

  • loveconstitution1789||

    I find it ridiculous that Trump is doing pretty well in some government rollback but rarely gets more than TDS on Reason.

    Plus, it just discredits those who have TDS all the time. We need everyone to stand together to block any stuff that Trump might do in 8 years that most Libertarians disagree with, like expanding the drug war.

  • Hank Phillips||

    Gary Johnson's 3+% of the vote is repealing laws and regulations just fine. That is why we who supported him are the winners in this race, our stock is probably up about 400%, trimmed by fraud and miscounting to 328%. The things the GO-Pee Executive is getting right are the ones their platform copied from ours: keep energy safe and legal, preserve the 2nd Amendment. Those planks are also the items that tied in the popular vote and buried the looters in the electoral college.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Contrary to his reputation (and Twitter feed), the president has been selectively trimming executive power.
    I wonder if Trump will get credit for this? Besides Welch that is.

  • Bra Ket||

    They will surround it with so much signalling and "to be sure"'s that partisans on both sides will be angry at them and their article doesn't get linked. Then they will learn to stick to the tried-and-true strategy of Trump-bashing.

  • Qsl||

    Kinda.

    A critique has been Trump is only doing this because of a (weak) republican majority.

    As the critique goes, were he facing a democrat legislature, Trump would be consolidating executive power.

    Although given how hostile his own party is to him (e.g. Flake), I don't put much stock in it.

  • MikeP2||

    That critique falls flat, because the GOP legislative majority was doing nothing for decades prior to Trump. One has to go back to Gingrich to find a GOP majority that was actively doing its job.

  • ThomasD||

    Trump did say he was going to do this sort of thing. Personally I don't think he's gone remotely far enough. Although I do credit him for moving in the right direction.

    It's sad when you have to give a politician props for keeping a campaign promise.

    What's also sad is having to hear how 'surprising' this all is from someone who never saw it coming.

  • vineetha||

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  • Hank Phillips||

    If you read God's Own Prohibitionist platform, you will notice the Real Estate Developer the party chose (instead of known slimy looter politicians) to push that platform. It promised to use Real Climate Science and keep competitive energy safe and legal, without carbon taxes. It also promised to uphold and defend the Second Amendment. Both are libertarian positions, and the sum of GOP and Libertarian votes totalled the same as all the Democrat, Communist and Green-teeth econazi votes.

  • MikeP2||

    Trump has destroyed the illusion of a non-partisan press that serves as a counterbalance to DC.

    Whether intent, or dumb luck, the bombast and tweetstorms have served as a red sheet, with the press the bull and Trump the matador. These sex scandals are the deathrows and of the press as we know it.

    This alone will put Trump in the history books as an impactful POTUS. If he can shrink DC along with that, force Congress to step up and do their jobs, and manage to keep us out of any new wars, I shudder to think he might be the greatest POTUS in our lifetimes.

  • Mike d||

    The only reason why Trump hasn't expanded the power of the executive branch is because he's too lazy and dumb to figure out how, and would rather play golf all day. Not very comforting. Thats almost like when our guy said we don't have to worry about him not invading Aleppo because he doesn't know where or what it is.

    What worries me is what happens the next 12 to 16 years down the line when the "next Trump" gets elected, but only more intelligent and ambitious.

  • TBlakely||

    Remember, trimming government power to it's constitutional limits is the path to Fascism.

  • maki||

    See also "Is Trump Restoring Separation of Powers?" by JOSH BLACKMAN (National Review 11/20/17).

    "Executive power is often described as a one-way ratchet: Each president, Democrat or Republican, augments the authority his predecessor aggrandized. These three planks of the Trumpian Constitution — delegation, due process, and deference — are remarkable, because they do the exact opposite by ratcheting down the president's authority. If Congress passes more precise statues, the president has less discretion. If federal agencies comply with the cumbersome regulatory process, the president has less latitude. If judges become more engaged and scrutinize federal regulations, the president receives less deference. Each of these actions would weaken the White House but strengthen the rule of law. To the extent that President Trump follows through with this platform, he can accomplish what few (myself included) thought possible: The inexorable creep of the administrative leviathan can be slowed down, if not forced into retreat."

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