Freedom Caucus, an affiliation of conservative U.S. Representatives has released a list of regulations and executive orders that merit immediate repeal when Donald Trump becomes President. It did not err by suggesting that federal laws should be repealed by executive order. The list covers 226 rules issued by many departments and agencies. In a list that long and broad in coverage, many advocacy groups will find a pet topic worth applause or opposition. Even if all 226 regulations were jettisoned, thousands of other regulations from the last 8 years remain to irritate businesses and consumers.
Most of the suggestions apply to social policy themes such as immigration, energy efficiency, environmental safety, climate change, Medicaid eligibility, mandatory scope of plan treatment coverage, school and consumer nutrition, and reproductive health.
The calls for repeal stem from government’s overly prescriptive and costly mandates. Many of these regulations are clearly costly but yield “benefits” only when viewed from a partisan perspective. If the regulations had been scored for cost and benefit before they were adopted, many would have failed the laugh test.
The Freedom Caucus had a shorter list of regulations whose removal would improve the economic plight of consumers. We were not surprised that Freedom Caucus’ suggestions aligned with positions taken by the American Consumer Institute (ACI) in areas of labor policy (repeal suggestions 129 and 133), banking and mortgage regulations (213), infrastructure spending (134), and advanced communications regulations (repeal suggestions 6, 9, 64). The federal government has done so little in cybersecurity regulation and negotiating lower drug prices for Medicaid and Medicare, that there were no regulations to remove.
Of special note are the labor regulations that coerce unionization of workforces who have not asked for that burden. The “National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) issued a decision… that expanded the definition of employer to include those who have indirect or even potential control over practically any employment decision.” This ruling (suggestion 129) was a transparent attempt to benefit unions attempting to unionize McDonalds’ workers. Most stores are franchised to independent owners and the store workers are the owner’s employees, not McDonalds’. It is expensive to agitate for a union in each store, so to help the unions, NLRB took the cynical route of adopting a regulation that pretends franchise owners’ employees actually work for McDonalds.
Today’s “gig’ economy is characterized by successful independent contractors choosing where, when, and for what price to work. Less successful contractors enjoy less freedom, and some may prefer to hold out for a position as an employee but the Department of Labor (DOL) wants all treated the same – as employees. That “my-way-or-the-highway” attitude (repeal suggestion 133) will not work well for successful contractors and it will not induce some employers to list jobs instead of list contract work available. DOL’s autocratic attitude will help neither employees nor the economy.
One long-time favorite of tax and spend representatives is the Davis Bacon Act. It requires that federal construction projects pay workers at a so-called prevailing rate, which DOL interprets to be the prevailing union wage (suggestion 134). That rate does not leave construction contractors the freedom to compete on rates and improved productivity that would benefit federal taxpayers. Freedom Caucus is right – DOL’s rate determination should reflect the best deal in actual labor price competition in each area.
The Freedom Caucus covered only one (repeal suggestion 211) of the many consumer-hostile regulations adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Omitted are shameful FCC practices such as designated entity giveaways in spectrum auctions, a stylish affectation that wastes scarce bandwidth. With the advent of Generation 5 mobile service needed for the Internet of Things, new auctions for frequency bands at 3GHz and above are critical, but the FCC trudges with regulatory thinking and a pace reminiscent of 1934. Who would sink mobile phone service and broadband into a swamp of 1934 regulations?
The FCC pretends it is exempt from the obligation to conduct an impartial cost and benefit analysis. Instead of validating its work, the FCC is obsessed with partisanship plotting for more communications entitlements (e.g. free broadband) and for gaining primacy over the Federal Trade Commission in the role of cybersecurity czar.
Certainly, 100 days is too brief a period to rein in the FCC, and it is too little time to tame thickets of regulations and political agendas at other agencies.