It is up to every president to craft a sensible regulatory agenda that takes into account the full costs and benefits of new rules. Unfortunately, President Joe Biden’s recently released regulatory agenda threatens to tip the scales in favor of a larger, less accountable government.
The new administration’s agenda includes reversing the Trump administration’s kibosh on a wide range of labor, safety and environmental rules, despite little evidence that the original rules in place actually helped people. President Biden also envisions the Department of Labor cracking down on wage and employment situations it deems to be “unfair” regardless of what workers want. Rather than doubling down on failed rules, President Biden should embrace regulatory reforms that force agencies to take costs and unintended consequences fully into account. Washington, D.C. needs to break from the past and revamp the rules on the books.
According to Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs acting director Sharon Block, President Biden “continues rolling back the obstacles to recovery, equity, and sustainability that the prior Administration put in place…” It’s hard to determine how that’s the case when the Biden administration insists on making it more costly to build infrastructure even as the administration and his legislative allies are pushing for a multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure package. As American Action Forum regulatory guru Dan Bosch explains, “The Council on Environmental Quality is planning a two-phase rulemaking to revise a 2020 Trump Administration rule on implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)” with narrow changes at first followed by broader changes to be proposed toward the end of 2021. The planned tampering with NEPA reform is troubling and will likely lead to minor environmental issues, adding years and billions of dollars to things like bridge and port construction.
If, for example, a port expansion entails marsh clearing to remove invasive snail species, resulting damages and cost overruns can quickly add to bottom-line costs. Also, special permissions regularly need to be obtained by the Environmental Protection Agency in the event of animal habitat-related issues. Red tape and bureaucratic delays have pushed out completion of Charleston, SC’s port expansion until 2024, despite the large costs to consumers of delayed shipping activity. It is of course critical to have a balance between environmental preservation and growth and prosperity. It is in nobody’s interest to have America’s great parks paved from end to end and plastered with billboards. But prior to NEPA reform, the pendulum swung too far in the anti-development direction and hampered critical infrastructure projects. Biden’s “broad” reforms would likely take us back to the bad old days.
President Biden should strive to leave critical market-based reforms in place to keep infrastructure costs down and properly take ecology and economy into account. He could also pave a bold path forward in continuing and expanding on regulatory reform.
One promising area to start is reform at the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), which has earned the ire of, well, pretty much everyone since the start of 2020. European nations such as Germany and the United Kingdom improved service quality and lowered costs by relaxing postal monopolies and allowing private players to compete on letter deliveries. These regulatory changes ensure that national posts such as Royal Mail continue to deliver to everyone while opening up stagnant mail markets to competition and innovation. Market-deepening reforms could bode well for the struggling USPS, which has seen strong institutional resistance to reforms and cost reduction.
President Biden should also work closely with Congress to ensure that patients with life-threatening conditions have access to game-changing medications. While the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is moving in the right direction with the recent approval of Alzheimer’s medication aducanumab, the agency’s confused mission and overly broad mandate has led to criticism and high-profile resignations. A relaxation and clarification of the FDA’s mandate can go a long way toward lowering health costs and increasing confidence in the regulatory system.
President Biden is clearly eager to show the world that America is open for business. The U.S. can turn the page on recent calamities and economic ruin if it forges forward on a bold new regulatory agenda. It’s time to create a new, improved plan that lays the groundwork for a new generation of growth and prosperity.