- - Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Trump administration’s second year was generally good for American consumers, although it could have been even better.

President Donald Trump signed pro-consumer bills expanding options for patients, protecting small banks and reimbursing artists more fairly. His administration has also shown leadership in its measured approach to innovations in financial technology and nonbank financial entities. Its general pro-consumer trajectory wavered, however, in regard to the president’s use of tariffs. Hopefully, 2019 will bring resolution to the administration’s trade negotiations, and Mr. Trump can further bolster his consumer protection record.

In May, the president signed into law a bipartisan piece of legislation called the Right to Try Act. Right to Try permits terminally ill patients to use experimental drugs and treatments not yet cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While Right to Try leaves room for improvement — its requirement that drug makers report the results of “compassionate use” treatments to the FDA could push companies to shy away from participating in the program — the law offers consumers access to potentially life-saving treatments. The Trump administration was right to make this a legislative priority.

Congress, with the president’s encouragement, has also brought needed reforms to the Dodd-Frank Act, the seriously flawed legislative attempt to address the causes of the 2008 financial crisis. Rather than helping consumers, the regulatory environment imposed by Dodd-Frank hurt them by building barriers to credit. The law has also harmed community banks, which struggle under the weight of regulations tailored to fit much larger financial institutions. A law that was supposed to address the “too big to fail” problem has rendered some banks too small to succeed.

Fortunately, the passage of the bipartisan Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act has the potential to shift the country’s financial regulations away from a one-size-fits-all system to one that accounts for the diverse interests and resources of American consumers.



The president and Congress also deserve credit for the Music Modernization Act, which updates copyright laws in light of internet-era norms for music consumption. The legislation, which Mr. Trump signed into law in October, finally brings fair compensation to legacy musicians in the digital age.

The Internet has changed how society consumes TV, music, movies, and other multimedia content. Music streaming, in particular, makes it easy for consumers to discover and enjoy the artists and songs they love. However, delivering content over new mediums does not change the fundamental tenets of property rights. Without fair compensation for their work, beloved artists can’t afford to dedicate themselves to creating the tracks their fans adore. The new law ensures better compensation for artists without hampering consumer access to music streaming. Win-win.

In a similar vein, the U.S. Copyright Office made a ruling affecting several significant changes to the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which enshrine legal exemptions for repairing certain electronics and software-enabled devices. It is now permissible to “jailbreak” new phones and virtual assistants like Amazon Echos, Apple HomePods, and Google Home devices. The ruling also allows third-party repair for a host of software-enabled appliances, electronic devices, and motorized equipment, such as tractors and smartphones. Advocates of the “right to repair” movement see this as a huge win for consumers, farmers, and the DIY, “maker” and tinkerer community.

Apart from the president’s legislative agenda, his administration’s regulatory activity has also been broadly pro-consumer. The Department of the Treasury showed wisdom in seriously and thoughtfully considering innovations in financial technology (FinTech) and nonbank financial institutions. It released a report this summer that identifies the significant challenges that innovations pose to federal regulators. The report also provides regulators guidance in helping consumers reap the benefits of FinTech and other non-traditional sources of credit — while also protecting them from bad actors, illegal products, and fraud. This report was an important first step in bringing government regulation and consumer welfare in line with 21st century financial innovations.

Unfortunately, not all of President Trump’s actions in the past 12 months have been beneficial to American consumers. While his renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement looks to be a net positive, his other trade negotiations remain unresolved. Depending on how the president’s hardball tactics with China play out, American consumers may notice an increase in prices. One study conducted by the National Retail Federation suggests that the president’s tariffs on Chinese products could cost consumers an aggregate of $6 billion, raising prices for products as diverse as TVs, cosmetics, and beer. Hopefully, the administration’s trade negotiators can strike deals in 2019 and avoid further pressure on American household budgets.

President Trump and his administration have demonstrated insight into policies and attitudes that will help American consumers. On the whole, Mr. Trump’s second year in office was good for them. With a few adjustments, he can make his third year even more pro-consumer.

• Beau Brunson is a senior policy advisor for Consumers’ Research.

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