White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney accused the Obama administration Thursday of keeping a “secret list” of proposed regulations during Mr. Obama’s eight-year regulatory onslaught against businesses, and touted President Trump’s rollback of more than 800 Obama-era rules and proposals.
Of the 860 rules or proposed rules that the Trump administration has killed, 179 came from what he called Mr. Obama’s “secret” list. As Trump aides combed through the books, they found pending proposals that included rules on hardwood plywood research and new requirements for contamination control in cattle slaughter operations.
“They had a bunch of things that they wanted to regulate,” Mr. Mulvaney said of the Obama administration’s first term. “They just didn’t want to tell you about it. They thought it would be bad for their re-election prospects in 2012, so they created a secret list of regs that were not disclosed to you folks. We are disclosing it.”
When Trump officials threatened to disclose the list, Mr. Mulvaney said, bureaucrats in various Cabinet agencies “came up with those 860 things that we got rid of.”
“There will be no more of that,” said the Office of Management and Budget director. “We will not have a secret list. We will not have a hidden list of regulations that we’re thinking about doing but we’re not going to tell you about. That’s going to end effective immediately. In fact, it already has ended.”
Cass Sunstein, who headed Mr. Obama’s office of regulatory affairs in his first term, did not respond to a request for comment.
Even as the Trump administration was accusing its predecessor of a hidden agenda, a government watchdog group faulted the Trump White House for acting with unprecedented secrecy in its first six months.
“Our conclusion on the Trump administration’s record on open government at six months is inescapable: This is a secretive administration, allergic to transparency, ethically compromised and hostile to the essential role that journalism plays in a democracy,” said a report by the Sunlight Foundation.
During Mr. Trump’s first six months in office, he has eliminated 16 major regulations that had cost businesses at least $100 million per year each. He has introduced only one major regulation, pertaining to mercury in wastewater.
At a White House event to showcase advances in U.S. pharmaceutical packaging, Mr. Trump said the drug industry and patients will soon benefit from fewer regulations at the Food and Drug Administration.
“Amazing things are happening there, and I think we’re going to be announcing some of them over the next two months,” the president said. “We’re going to be streamlining, as we have in other industries, regulations so that advancements can reach patients quickly.”
A recent study by the conservative American Action Forum found that Mr. Trump has released 8 percent of the historical average of rules issued by Presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Clinton.
Holding up a stack of paper of Obama regulations with both hands, Mr. Mulvaney challenged reporters at the White House, “Were you healthy and safe before this came out? Yes. And you’ll be healthy and safe when it’s gone.”
Cutting regulations is a pillar of Mr. Trump’s economic program as he seeks to return the U.S. economy to an annual growth rate of 3 percent or more, a number that hasn’t been reached in 10 years.
Federal agencies under Mr. Trump have withdrawn 469 proposed regulations from a report last fall under Mr. Obama. Another 391 proposed regulations have been delayed for further evaluation.
Trump officials said the Obama administration introduced rules in the last six months of 2016 that would have imposed $6.8 billion in annual costs on the economy, while the new rules during Mr. Trump’s first five months have imposed no costs.
“We had zero,” Mr. Mulvaney said.
He said the previous administration often “fudged the numbers” when it proposed regulations.
“They either overstated the benefit or understated the cost,” Mr. Mulvaney said.
When Mr. Trump took office, he issued a two-for-one directive to set the tone of his war on regulation: For every proposed regulation, two others were to be cut.
The regulatory rollback has provided Mr. Trump with one of his smoothest areas of cooperation with congressional Republicans, who aided the push early in his term by deploying the seldom-used Congressional Review Act to repeal Obama-era rules.
“We’ve seen the largest regulatory rollback since Ronald Reagan, and there’s much more to come,” said Sen. David Perdue, Georgia Republican.
Among Mr. Trump’s future easing of regulations, the Interior Department plans to reduce paperwork for outdoorsmen and fish restoration programs, and the Labor Department is planning to streamline the approval process for new apprenticeship programs.
Mr. Mulvaney said most of the actions are not headline-grabbing but the impact of cutting red tape improves the business climate and the lives of average Americans.
“None of them are very sexy,” he said of the 860 rules. “I describe them … as a slow cancer that can come from regulatory burdens that we put on our people. It’s not going to change the world, but when you do that 860 times in the first six months, it can have a benefit.”
The conservative Competitiveness Enterprise Institute predicted this week that Mr. Trump would cut red tape this year on a significant scale. The group said that under Mr. Obama, typically 97,000 pages were printed annually in the Federal Register, a level that is likely to be cut by a third under Mr. Trump.
Regulatory analyst Clyde Wayne Crews at CEI said this week that regulatory compliance costs about $2 trillion annually and that some regulations he calls “regulatory dark matter” are imposed without adequate public review.
Federal requirements of publishing a notice of proposed rule-making and allowing public comment do not apply to “interpretative rules, general statements of policy, or rules of agency organization, procedure or practice,” Mr. Crews said in a blog post. “Further, most regulations’ costs and benefits are unknown. … ‘Regulatory dark matter’ such as agency and presidential memoranda, guidance documents, notices, bulletins, directives, news releases, letters and even blog posts may enact or influence policy while flouting the [federal] public notice and comment requirements for legislative rules.”
Mr. Mulvaney said cutting red tape is urgently needed to make economic growth of 3 percent sustainable.
“Our fear is that if we don’t get back there quickly, there will be people who never know what 3 percent means,” he said. “And I don’t think it should come as a surprise that there are some people who don’t want you to remember what 3 percent growth would be like because it would be a tremendous sort of damnation of what happened in the previous administration.”