President Donald Trump recently patted himself on the back for the "most far-reaching regulatory reform" in U.S. history, which wasn't true but that wasn't the point. The point was that Trump has made eliminating government regulations one of his top priorities.
"We have decades of excess regulation to remove," he said, calling on his Cabinet members "to find and remove every single outdated, unlawful and excessive regulation currently on the books."
Trump and his Cabinet may want to rethink that proposition.
Last month on a Friday night, when the White House figured no one was looking, it quietly released a congressionally mandated report from the Office of Management and Budget spelling out both the costs of government regulations on the private sector and the estimated monetary benefits to the public.
For example, the cost of imposing clean-air and clean-water rules on factories versus the benefit to ordinary people of not getting cancer and running up huge hospital bills.
In former President Obama's final year in office -- the period covered by the report -- 16 "major rules" were fully quantifiable, meaning their total costs and benefits were capable of being measured.
What Trump's budget office found was that these rules cost up to $4.9 billion to impose on businesses and resulted in up to $27.3 billion in benefits to the American people.
That means taxpayers got nearly six times as much in benefits as was spent regulating businesses.
And that, by any yardstick, is a hell of a good investment.
Amit Narang, a regulatory policy advocate with Public Citizen, told me the report was released by the White House with no fanfare around 7 p.m. Friday. He noted that the Trump administration missed its Dec. 31 deadline for the report by two months.
"It seems like they don't want people to know that the benefits of government regulations in Obama's last year far exceeded the costs," Narang said.
I reached out to the White House for comment. No one got back to me.
Narang crunched the numbers for the last decade and estimated that the net benefit to Americans from regulations was as much as $833 billion, or 12 times what these rules cost industry to impose.
"Much of these benefits are in the form of health and safety," he said. "So one way to look at this is that if you don't control emissions from factories, you're looking at all sorts of added costs to society, such as cancer, children's asthma and serious respiratory illnesses."
The Trump administration's report completely undercuts its argument that regulations are bad for the country because they stifle job growth and innovation. In fact, the U.S. economy logged steady if unspectacular growth throughout the Obama years.
This week, we learned that despite Trump's deregulatory push, economic growth slowed more than initially thought over the final three months of 2017, down to 2.5 percent from 3.2 percent during the previous quarter.
Perhaps that can be traced to Trump's arbitrary and reckless policy that for every new government regulation, two existing ones have to be thrown out. He's fond of saying this both limits new rule-making and cleans house of older rules that don't jibe with his policy agenda.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Don't need that. Environmental Protection Agency? It can get by with 23 percent less funding. School safety? We can cut spending there by $425 million.
What Trump isn't saying -- but which his own numbers clearly spell out: Take away rules and regulations, and all you end up doing is shortchanging the American people.
Speaking of regulations, here's the latest on net neutrality -- and AT&T's acrobatic efforts to simultaneously support and oppose the Trump administration's doing away with oversight of high-speed internet service.
A federal appeals court ruled this week that the Federal Trade Commission could continue pursuing a lawsuit against AT&T over internet speeds.
This is a big deal because, if AT&T had its way, no one in Washington would be telling it what to do.
The unanimous decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco came as the Federal Communications Commission proceeds with plans to chuck net neutrality out the window.
Those are the rules put in place under the Obama administration that prohibit internet service companies such as AT&T from interfering with the content flowing over their networks or charging extra for more reliable access.
Unless Congress or the courts act, net neutrality will officially end April 23.
One of the key arguments made by the FCC for abandoning net neutrality is that the Federal Trade Commission can do a good enough job protecting consumers from unsavory telecom industry practices.
The FTC sued AT&T in 2014, charging the company with deliberately slowing the internet speeds of millions of customers who paid for unlimited data plans -- a practice known as "throttling."
AT&T countered that the FTC had no business telling it what to do because only the Federal Communications Commission has jurisdiction over internet service providers.
Yes, that would be the same FCC that's trying to get out of the internet regulation business, which AT&T and other telecom companies support.
In effect, AT&T was trying to create a loophole whereby no federal agency would be looking over its shoulder.
The 9th Circuit decided that "common sense" suggests the line between phone and internet companies has become blurry. "A phone company is no longer just a phone company," the judges ruled. So the FTC's lawsuit can move forward.
Ajit Pai, President Trump's appointee as chairman of the FCC and a former Verizon lawyer, said the ruling means the Federal Trade Commission "will once again be able to police internet service providers."
Well, sort of. The FTC enforces rules on fraud and deception -- in this case, accusations that AT&T reduced customers' data speeds after selling them "unlimited" data plans.
The agency is not empowered to address other issues raised by net neutrality, such as an internet service provider's treatment of content.
That's why Democrats in the U.S. Senate this week introduced a bill to repeal the FCC's net neutrality repeal.
"President Trump and FCC Chairman Ajit Pai might want to end the internet as we know it, but we won't agonize, we will organize," Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in introducing the legislation.
"The internet is for all -- the students, teachers, innovators, hard-working families, small businesses and activists -- not just Verizon, Charter, AT&T and Comcast and corporate interests," he said.
That, undoubtedly, will come as a surprise to Verizon, Charter, AT&T and Comcast and corporate interests.
About The Writer
David Lazarus, a Los Angeles Times columnist, writes on consumer issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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