Policy Background on Trump’s Joint-Session Address to Congress

President Trump will be delivering a televised State of the Union-style address to a joint session of Congress next Tuesday evening, in which he will review the new administration’s initiatives so far and announce ways in which the White House will work with Congress on legislative priorities going forward. While the contents of the speech is reportedly not yet finalized, we at CEI have prepared a detailed set of recommendations under the heading “First Steps for the Trump Administration.” Here are five areas where the administration has the opportunity to implement valuable and much-needed reforms for the American people. For detailed recommendations for Congress, see CEI’s parallel publication, Free to Prosper: A Pro-Growth Agenda for the 115th Congress.

Rein in America’s Regulatory State

The President has already signed an executive order on regulatory reform that calls for federal agencies to repeal two existing rules for each new rule they propose to implement. It also calls for the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to assign agencies an annual limit on how great an increase in regulatory costs they’re allowed to impose each year. Previously proposed rules still in the process of being finalized are also delayed, subject to the President’s “regulatory freeze” memorandum of January 24th. These are smart moves that will open the door to ever more fundamental reforms, like those contained in the Regulatory Accountability Act, which is currently making its way through Congress.

My colleague Wayne Crews also has these specific recommendations for items on the deregulatory agenda:

  • Repeal or amend enabling statutes that sustain regulatory excesses
  • Abolish, downsize, and deny appropriations to aggressive agencies that routinely pursue regulatory actions not authorized by Congress 
  • Eliminate or sunset existing rules
  • Prevent agencies from creating new rules in areas where Congress has not explicitly delegated legislative authority, especially in frontier sectors like Internet applications, drones, robotics, and artificial intelligence.

Read the full Web Memo, First Steps for the Trump Administration: Rein in the Regulatory State, here.

Champion Affordable Energy

With former Oklahoma attorney general Scott Pruitt confirmed as head of the Environmental Protection Agency, the administration now has a point person in place who has been skeptical of federal overreach on energy and environment issues. The White House is also widely expected to issue executive orders soon rolling back the Obama-era Clean Power Plan and Waters of the United States rules. President Trump has also already signed a joint resolution of disapproval passed under the Congressional Review Act eliminating the Department of Interior’s Stream Protection Rule.

These initial moves mesh well with the goals that CEI experts Marlo Lewis, Angela Logomasini, and William Yeatman first highlighted for the Trump team in December:

  • End U.S. participation in the Paris Climate Agreement and defund the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and U.N. Green Climate Fund
  • Overturn the Clean Power Plan
  • Require the EPA to meet its statutory deadlines before pursuing discretionary objectives
  • Stop counting pollution reduction benefits achieved both above and below the National Ambient Air Quality Standards as one and the same
  • Reform and terminate unaccountable environmental research programs

Read the full Web Memo, First Steps for the Trump Administration: Champion Affordable Energy, here.

Unleash America’s Labor Force

While the President’s first nominee to head the Department of Labor eventually withdrew his nomination, current secretary-designate Alexander Acosta’s nomination is now moving forward, and he has been endorsed by at least three major labor unions. CEI labor policy expert Trey Kovacs noted that Acosta “has experience dealing with tough labor and employment issues from his experience at the National Labor Relations Board and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.” While Acosta hasn’t announced any presumptive policy plans, Vice President Pence has signaled an interest in reform of collective bargaining by public sector unions in a recent meeting with Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who is known for his implementation of such reforms at the state level. 

In his list of labor and employment policy goals, Kovacs emphasized the following recommendations:

  • Rescind the Department of Labor’s Administrator’s Interpretation on Joint Employment and Independent Contractors
  • Protect and promote the sharing economy
  • Rein in activism by the National Labor Relations Board
  • Reverse the Department of Labor’s new Overtime Rule

Read the full Web Memo, First Steps for the Trump Administration: Unleash America’s Labor Force, here.

Restore Americans’ Financial Freedom

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is now in place and will take the lead in implementing policies like an expected review of banking and finance regulations implemented under the Dodd-Frank Act. CEI Senior Fellow John Berlau has been a leading voice on what reforms the Trump administration should be looking at, including in his recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal:

In the spirit of bipartisanship and fostering economic and job growth, Mr. Trump and Congress should remove all regulatory barriers needlessly obstructing America’s entrepreneurs, consumers or investors, regardless of which party implemented them. They can start with a law signed and implemented by President George W. Bush.

In 2002 the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or Sarbox, was rammed through Congress and signed by President Bush in response to the Enron and WorldCom accounting scandals. But its regulatory burden has fallen heaviest on small and midsize public companies. As noted in a 2011 report from President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, “Regulations aimed at protecting the public from the misrepresentations of a small number of large companies have unintentionally placed significant burdens on the large number of smaller companies.”

Berlau also offered these summary points for new finance policy:

  • Replace Richard Cordray with a pro-market director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
  • Delay Implementation of the Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule indefinitely until it can be repealed
  • Ease Sarbanes-Oxley’s onerous internal control mandates

Read the full Web Memo, First Steps for the Trump Administration: Restore Financial Freedom, here.

Support Technology and Innovation

Many advocates of free markets and limited government cheered when President Trump named Ajit Pai, already a commissioner first appointed by President Obama, to be the new chairman of the Federal Communications Commission. Pai moved quickly on the important issue of wireless regulation, closing FCC’s investigation into wireless carriers’ free-data offerings. The ill-advised “zero-rating” investigation was part of an ongoing effort that CEI analyst Jessica Melugin characterized as “a (harmful) cure in search of a disease.” The FCC, and other agencies with similar responsibilities, have far better ways to advance sound technology policy at the federal level, including the following from CEI’s Ryan Radia, Marc Scribner, and Jessica Melugin:

  • Free the Internet from public utility-style net neutrality regulation
  • Make telecom regulation more accountable by clarifying the Federal Communications Commission’s role
  • Empower markets to bolster privacy and cybersecurity
  • Don’t slam the brakes on self-driving vehicles
  • Avoid Internet sales taxes

Read the full Web Memo, First Steps for the Trump Administration: Support Technology and Innovation, here.