July 27, 2017

I WAS HOPING FOR MORE THAN “I HAVE A PEN AND A PHONE,” BUT WITH THE GOP CONGRESS MAYBE I EXPECTED TOO MUCH: The Myth of Trump’s Do-Nothing Presidency: To gauge impact, go beyond the laws he has signed to the vast authority he wields through departments and agencies that apply the law.

Six months into his presidency, Donald Trump’s detractors portray him as a do-nothing president with no big wins on issues such as health care, taxes and infrastructure.

That may be true if the benchmark is legislation, but that is an incomplete benchmark. To gauge a president’s impact you have to go beyond the laws he signs to the vast authority he wields through departments and agencies that apply the law. On that score, Mr. Trump is on track to do a lot. On finance, the internet, immigration and drugs, to name just a few issues, Trump appointees have begun nudging the economy and the country in a more conservative, pro-business direction. Whether that is good or bad is to a great extent in the eye of the beholder. What isn’t debatable is that the imperial presidency, after expanding under Barack Obama, remains just as formidable under Mr. Trump.

In recent weeks headlines have been dominated by the Senate’s stop-start efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act. Away from this drama, Mr. Trump’s Labor Department moved to undo Mr. Obama’s expansion of eligibility for overtime pay, financial regulators dropped efforts to tighten restrictions on banker pay and the Interior Department signaled it would rescind proposed rules on oil and gas fracking on federal land. On Wednesday, Mr. Trump announced transgender individuals couldn’t serve in the military, reversing an Obama-era decision.

In Mr. Trump’s first six months, rule-making has changed dramatically. The latest update on regulatory actions released last week by the White House Office of Management and Budget contained 1,731 preliminary, proposed or final rules, down 40% from its peak under Mr. Obama in 2011 and a 17-year low, according to Sofie Miller of George Washington University’s Regulatory Studies Center. Many actions taken under Mr. Trump are actually reversals of earlier rules. Ms. Miller says of 66 completed actions at the Environmental Protection Agency, a third were rule withdrawals.

You take what you can get.

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