Over the past eight years, a slew of federal regulations has hurt the American consumer’s quality of life. New rules, such as stricter fuel economy standards and Energy Department requirements for appliances, have increased the cost of staple consumer goods while decreasing their availability, variety, and quality. Products and services as disparate as health care and prepaid value cards have been damaged by the misguided belief that bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., know best.
Facing a Congress with which he did not want to compromise, President Obama notoriously reminded them, “I’ve got a pen, and I’ve got a phone.” That was a way of saying that he would exert his influence to shape national policy in line with his left-wing ideology, irrespective of the legislative branch’s approval.
Net neutrality was one such policy. President Obama determined that it would be a good idea for the government to dictate how Internet Service Providers (ISPs) manage the information flowing through their networks during peak usage hours. Outgoing Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Tom Wheeler was initially averse to imposing these regulations. But, according to a report by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, President Obama pushed him to pursue his more heavy-handed Internet regulation agenda.
Fortunately, President Trump tapped Ajit Pai, a Republican FCC commissioner, to become the agency’s new chairman. Pai has described net neutrality as “an overreach that will let a Washington bureaucracy, and not the American people, decide the future of the online world.” More broadly, Pai has also said that the agency “need[s] to fire up the weed whacker and remove those rules that are holding back investment, innovation and job creation.”
The Clean Power Plan was another flawed Obama administration policy. This would cost the energy sector between $220–$292 billion from 2022 to 2033, according to the Institute for Energy Research. These costs that would be passed on to consumers, raising electricity prices by as much as 11 percent to 14 percent. These regulations were enacted without any Congressional action, directed by President Obama to be crafted and enforced by unelected bureaucrats in the Environmental Protection Agency.
Last year, the Supreme Court issued a stay on enforcing the Clean Power Plan pending the ruling of a lower court. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, the President’s nominee to head the EPA, will soon have the authority to make sure these costly regulations never see the light of day. That would be a win for American consumers and the reliability of our power supply.
The granddaddy of all of Obama’s costly policy failures is the Affordable Care Act, which many predicted would increase costs and decrease coverage options. Ignoring these warnings, the then-Democratic majority in Congress passed the law and Obama’s executive branch enacted it. President Obama’s promise that, “if you like your health care plan, you can keep it” became PolitiFact’s “Lie of the Year” in 2013.
President Trump inherits a system in which the cost of health-care premiums and deductibles are increasing while consumer choice is decreasing, and he has already indicated that he intends to fulfill his campaign promise to dismantle the failing law. He signed an executive order calling for the repeal of the ACA and ordering agencies to provide relief to consumers and more flexibility to states. In another promising move, the president nominated Rep. Tom Price (R-GA), a physician and health-care expert who has developed plans for repealing and replacing Obamacare, to head the Department of Health and Human Services.
Finally, the Obama administration gave us the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), a powerful agency with a misleading name. The CFPB, created as part of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act’s response to the 2008 financial crisis, has the noble mission of making sure that Americans don’t fall prey to unfair business practices. But the CFPB’s default regulatory approach to “protecting” consumers is to limit consumers’ choices. For example, the agency wants to make it more difficult for people to get loans from payday lending sources, and also seeks to limit access to prepaid cards. Limiting financial choices is a perverse form of protection.
The CFPB operates with almost no Congressional oversight. President Trump should encourage Congress to restructure the CFPB into a truly independent, bi-partisan commission in keeping with other federal agencies and the constitutional standards.
The new administration has the potential to improve consumer welfare by giving both consumers and producers the tools they need to thrive. President Trump has already taken some important steps to reduce burdensome regulations, rein in federal agencies, and roll back President Obama’s harmful executive actions and orders. For the sake of the American consumer, let’s hope this is just the beginning.
Joseph Colangelo is Executive Director of Consumers' Research, the nation's oldest consumer-focused organization. Joseph grew up in Northern New Jersey and attended U.C. Berkeley on a Naval ROTC scholarship where he graduated with a Bachelor’s of Arts with a concentration in Political Science.