James S. Brady Press Briefing Room
10:36 A.M. EDT
MR. SPICER: Couple quick — Marc Short, Director of Legislative Affairs, is going to go over the Congressional Review Act and what we’ve got for an update.
First thing, Secretary Kelly was up on the Hill and talked about where we are with immigration. We should have a statement out very shortly from the White House discussing some of the highlights. If you’ve seen any of the numbers, there’s a 35 percent, from this month to last month, in terms of immigration being down at 65 percent —
Q Year to year, correct?
MR. SPICER: Year to year. And so obviously those are things that you’ll see — we’ll highlight in the statement, but obviously, Secretary Tillerson — Secretary Kelly’s testimony was that. For background, I may try to have some more on Syria later today. We’re working on potentially having some more. I’ll give you an update on that.
Q Before the press conference?
MR. SPICER: No, no, no. If we have anything — and then obviously the presser is at 1:10 p.m.
Q Is it two and two?
MR. SPICER: Two and two in the Rose Garden.
With that, let me turn it over to Marc Short, Director of Legislative Affairs, to talk a little about the Congressional Review Act and everything else.
Q Everything else? (Laughter.)
Q First Syria. (Laughter.)
MR. SHORT: I’m glad Sean is staying, because I can just deflect in.
Thanks, guys. Good morning to you. We wanted to take a few minutes to talk about what the administration has been focused on in terms of regulatory burden. And that’s best, I think, embodied to the Congressional Review Act and legislation. And I don’t think Americans really understand what is the Congressional Review Act. And so I want to sort of frame this in the larger context of the regulatory burden that this administration inherited and what we’re trying to do with that.
I think the President is keeping his promise to Americans to roll back that regulatory burden. And as a result, I believe that we are helping to spur growth in the American economy. We inherited — this administration did — the biggest regulatory burden, we believe, of any President in American history. And after an onslaught of new regulations that we believe were slow on the economy and hardworking Americans, this administration has gone to work at how to pull that back.
The previous administration authored more than 600 major regulations according to the Federal Register, with an estimated cost to the economy of about $740 billion. President Trump, on the campaign, promised several things on this front. He promised to freeze regulations and to “issue a temporary moratorium on new agency regulations.” And he did that. He promised that for every one new regulation, two old regulations must be eliminated. That promise has been kept. He promised to lift the restrictions on American energy, and he’s done that. He promised to ask each and every federal agency to prepare a list of all the regulations that they impose on the Americans, which are not necessary — and he’s done that. He promised to cut regulations massively, as he said, and he has. And I’m asking you to look at what the Congressional Review Act does.
The Congressional Review Act was signed into law in 1996. And what many of you may know is it allows a limited window for us to actually pull back previous regulations. So it allows Congress, the House and the Senate, to look at those regulations and to eliminate those, that they pass by a simple majority.
When you change administrations, it allows you an additional 60-day legislative calendar window to look back. So there’s a 60-day backward window and also, in the new administration, an additional 60 days on the legislative calendar. What all that means I think for — what you guys need to know is that window is closing at the end of April. Previously, there had been one time in history — President Bush in 2001 used the Congressional Review Act to sign into law legislation to pull back those regulations. This administration has already signed 11, and there are two more pending for us to sign.
We believe this is having a dramatic impact in pulling back the regulatory burden, as I said, and that we believe that, so far, that cost or that benefit to the economy is over $10 billion in regulations through the Congressional Review Act that are being saved by the American taxpayer so far.
In addition, as you know, we’re using executive action to stop some of the costs of these regulations. He signed more than a dozen executive orders that, among other things, require us to review the cost of the Clean Power Plan, review EPA’s Waters to the U.S. regulation, clear regulatory burdens to small businesses, lift the moratorium on onshore coal leasing, begin a plan to reorganize or eliminate wasteful government agencies, and to give the HHS Secretary the discretion to provide states with the flexibility under Obamacare. These are all efforts to, again, in different areas, pull back on the regulatory front.
Some of the CRAs are not specific to jobs, but many of them are. We believe that major companies like Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, General Motors, Sprint, Softbank, Exxon, Lockheed, and even Carrier, have mentioned to the President and the Vice President different times that one of the reasons they’re recommitting to job growth in the United States and keeping jobs here is because of the commitment to sign these pieces of legislation, to pull back on the regulations that they’ve been facing, and as well the commitments to tax reform.
So those are efforts that we believe are helping to create jobs. But we’re asking you today to consider — I know there’s a lot of big stories — tax reform, healthcare, a lot of things you’re covering — is that this window on the CRA closes. And we do think that, again, that Bush having signed one, this administration already signed 11 into law, it is a tool that we’re taking advantage of and that we’re actually passing this legislation, and that working with House and Senate leadership, there are several more that we hope to sign before this window closes on April 28th.
And we believe it’s actually having a dramatic impact for the American taxpayer. Do we have those?
So we also have to give you a quick handout. And this I think summarizes what those 11 are, what the two are that are pending, and then additionally a couple that have passed the House. They’re waiting for action in the Senate that we hope to receive to sign into law before the end of April, as well.
So a quick overview on what the CRA does, which ones are pending.
With that, I’d be happy to take questions.
Q You said the impact is $10 billion with a “B” or million with an “M”?
MR. SHORT: B, as in billion.
Q Over what period of time? Per year?
MR. SHORT: Andy is the smart one — 20 years.
Q That’s $10 billion over 20 years.
MR. SHORT: Yes, Major.
Q When you pass, and the President signs, a CRA, it essentially ends that regulatory process. And in its place Congress has to create something else or nothing happens. Like with the ISP one, the FCC can’t do anything until Congress decides to do something in exchange for whatever was there before.
In that instance, when you have Google, Facebook, and the Internet service providers, does this administration believe there should be some privacy legislation drafted and passed to deal with those underlying issues? Or is it simply content to take away this difference between what the regulatory regime was for Google and Facebook and what it was for the ISP one?
MR. SHORT: We’re content right now in pulling back on what was previous, Major. I think when we’re able to nominate and confirm our own people on the FCC, I’m sure they’ll take a fresh look at that.
Q On the whole privacy issue and what legislation may be required?
MR. SHORT: I’m not telling you there will be legislation required. I’m simply saying that they’re going to take a fresh look at that, and there will be time for them to do that. For now, we thought it was appropriate to sign the legislation that repealed what was there.
Q Thank you. What do you say to critics who say you’re not carefully considering the regulations enough on their own merit? For example, Congressman McGovern — Jim McGovern — said bringing things up without any review by committee of jurisdiction under closed rules and in a way that may have some unintended consequences is a “stupid way to do things.” Is there a risk of doing this too quickly?
MR. SHORT: I think there was a huge risk to the economy what was happening before. And I think that there was — what was happening is clearly from the executive agencies. I think impacts were not even getting reviewed by the legislative branch. So I think that what we’re actually doing is allowing the legislative branch to work its will, in coordination with us, to try to pull back on things that were not done legislatively.
Q You commented that you’re reviewing each regulation carefully enough that you’re not running roughshod over some of these.
MR. SHORT: Yes.
Q Given that your difficulty is getting healthcare legislation passed, do you think that your regulatory repeals are going to be the major legislative accomplishment for the foreseeable future with this administration?
MR. SHORT: No, I think that this is a huge accomplishment in the first quarter. I think you have to keep in mind, again, that this window closes. So in concert with Speaker Ryan and Leader McConnell, there was clearly an intentional effort to say this is our window to do this, and we have to focus on it.
I think there has no doubt been a lot of focus in the media on other issues and not this legislative track. And I confess that any one of these is not going to really drive a news story. But I think if you take in totality what we’ve been trying to do on the regulatory front, it is a news story. And so I do think it’s an accomplishment.
I also think that, legislatively, we certainly look forward to confirming Judge Gorsuch on Friday, and I think that that is certainly, as well, something that we will look back proudly upon at the process that was laid out there, the process of choosing that particular nominee and helping to get him confirmed I think as somebody who has proven to be a terrific jurist and will make an impact on the Supreme Court for decades to come.
Q Do you think that — this has been done more times than all other Presidents combined since the CRA was passed, and it’s being used to roll back exclusively regulations from the Obama administration, do you think that using the CRA so much during this review period sets a precedent where one administration will come in and just get rid of everything the previous one did? And do you worry that this could happen on the opposite side if Democrats take back Congress and the White House? And how do you have continuity if this keeps happening?
MR. SHORT: Fair question, but I think there are several things that made this environment possible. Keep in mind, it’s not something that is done unilaterally; we have to work with Congress to get it passed. So there is a process. It has to get majorities in the House and the Senate before it ever reaches us to actually pull back on these regulations.
I think that what happened was, during the Obama administration there was a historic number of regulations put into place that afforded this administration that opportunity to pull them back. But I also think it’s a promise that President Trump made on the campaign trail to the American people that he would do exactly this.
And so, therefore, we believe that it’s fulfilling a campaign promise. We said this is something that is crippling the American economy and we’re going to address it, and this is one of the vehicles through which we’re addressing it.
Q But say you guys get done with this review period and the Trump administration starts putting forth regulations, and the next President, say is a Democrat, and the Democrats take back Congress, and they do the same thing, do you worry that —
MR. SHORT: Keep in mind, this tool only allows us to go back to 60 calendar days in legislative action. So we’re not able to look at eight years of the Obama administration.
Q I realize that. But my point is, do you worry that you’re setting a precedent where this could come off as sort of vengeful, we won, we’re going to erase what you did, and the next guy is going to come in and do the same thing?
MR. SHORT: I don’t think it’s done with a vengeful spirit. I think it’s done with —
Q I didn’t say it was. I said (inaudible) —
MR. SHORT: Your word was “vengeful,” so I’m repeating your question. But I think what we said is that this is what the President campaigned on, is that he would look to peel back the regulatory burden. This is one of the vehicles to do that. And I think that’s the bigger message, is that we promised that to the American taxpayer, the American job creator, and this is one of the vehicles through which we are accomplishing that end.
Q Once this window closes at the end of the month, what’s your deregulatory effort going to look like? And can you give us a preview of what specific industries might be affected after this tool expires?
MR. SHORT: Great question. I do think that, because of this, there’s been more focus on it in the first quarter of this year. But I think that we’ll continue — what instead will happen probably is you’ll see more action from the executive branch. So I think there’ll be some secretaries for whom their industries, in particular, they’ll be looking to pass new orders that may be addressed — some of the regulatory burden there.
Q Can you spotlight any industries you have in mind at targeting?
MR. SHORT: No, I’m going to leave that to the Cabinet secretaries to address themselves.
Q Two questions. One, on the regulatory stuff. A fair bit of the regulation that you’ve gone after has already — never actually went into effect because it’s been tied up in courts, as you said, or hadn’t been fully implemented because you can only go back a certain number of days, as you said, anyway.
So is it fair to — I mean, as we sort of try to judge how effective you guys have been — I mean, some of the stuff that you’re rolling back, and you’ve talked about the numbers of impact — $10 billion — is that a fair way to measure it, given that it never took — some of the stuff never took —
MR. SHORT: Those are estimated costs of what the impact would be. I don’t know another way to sort of gauge that for you.
Q And second question on healthcare. Talk a little bit about these meetings that have taken place yesterday on Capitol Hill, last night with the Vice President, earlier in the day. You know, you’re the guy in charge of trying to get this stuff done on healthcare. Where do you — give us some sense, on a scale of 1 to 10, or a percentage rating, or whatever, how close — or timing — you know, how close are we — a day, a week, a month, a year — from some kind of re-do on the healthcare bill?
MR. SHORT: Sure. What I would say is that, look, the healthcare system in America needs to be addressed. We know that patients are getting crushed by the current system. We know that insurers are fleeing the exchanges. It’s a promise that Republican lawmakers have made since 2010, to repeal Obamacare. There unity in what that goal is.
I think that what we’ve seen in the last couple days that encourages us is that members within the Republican conference that, frankly, previously were not engaged in the conversations, are now in engaged in them. So last night, when we had members of the Freedom Caucus, and the Tuesday Group, and the RSC in the same room talking through the same issues, we feel like that is progress. I think that there is a great sense from the members that say, we know as well that this is a promise we made to the American people, and we have to get to a better result than we did two weeks ago. And I think there is a sense of partnership with the administration reaching that.
I can’t give you a timetable as to when we think that that will happen, but I can tell you that I think there is a — there is not people within our conference — Republican conference — saying no. There are people saying not yet. And I think that we are getting closer and closer to this process to hopefully making sure that we put in place a better healthcare system.
Q We talked a couple of days ago about a text — some legislative text that people said was going to be coming out of this building. Then we never saw it.
MR. SHORT: I think some of those reports were erroneous. I think that there’s been some discussions about conceptually what are the new ideas that would help bridge some of the impasse and bring groups together. As to what timetable we will have text available to review, I’m not committed to that yet.
Q To follow up on that, if you say that there are members who were not engaged but now are engaged — not saying no, but saying not yet — what are the issues that are on the table that are being discussed that are bringing them in? Like what concessions has — or compromise options has the White House put out, specific policy points?
MR. SHORT: I think that when I say that there are groups not engaged, to be clear, what I’m saying is they’re not engaged in the same room. So they were engaged, but it was sort of this — as some people around here call it — the shuttle diplomacy. Whereas now we’re all in the same room having the same conversation together.
As far as the issues that we’re discussing, I think they’ve been well circulated. I think that we want to make sure that whatever reforms are done are making sure that premiums are brought down. I think that that is one of the primary concerns, yet you’re still providing access to patients.
Q I know when the AHCA was first rolled out, there was this talk of a phase two where there would be a bunch of regulatory changes on healthcare. Does the administration plan to go forward with those changes regardless of what happens with the legislation in Congress?
MR. SHORT: I don’t want to speak for Secretary Price, but I believe that — look, we are committed to making sure that reforms are done, that he can handle in ways that benefit the patient. So I don’t think we’re looking to slow that down.
MR. KOENIG: Before you go on, if there are any more questions on the CRA, keep your hands up. And then Marc, I’m sure, will be happy to answer a couple more questions on healthcare, but we’re really here on the CRA. So we could go that direction first, and then a couple more on healthcare, and then we’re going to be done.
Q I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how this fits into the conservative philosophy, like what you’re hoping to achieve and whether or not there’s discussions about the direction that conservative philosophy is going?
MR. SHORT: Sure. Well, thanks. I think that there’s a lot of members in the House and the Senate and this administration believe that a more limited role of government is beneficial to our economy and provides consumers with more freedom. And I think that that’s the overarching way that we look at a lot of the regulatory burden. We want to make sure that the government has the right role in ensuring that industries are safe, but we don’t want to go beyond that in ways that we are losing jobs. And I think the President made clear that what we need to do is to create jobs for Americans.
And so we want to make sure that the agencies in charge of providing safety are doing that, yet at the same time not providing undue burdens that crush job creators. And I think that that is part of the conservative philosophy.
Q Just to follow up, how do you reconcile the goals that you have with the (inaudible) government, like the Midwestern conservative who wants that, as opposed to like the infrastructure program that the President has talked about? How does that work?
MR. SHORT: I think there will be a lot more to come on the infrastructure at a later time, but I think one thing the administration has said is they’re looking for public-private partnerships that I think will provide opportunities where it’s not simply on the taxpayer’s shoulders. But I think, as well, there is clearly a need — even whether you’re conservative, liberal — we’re finding the interest from legislators across the spectrum to say, we want to work with you on infrastructure because we recognize the infrastructure is crumbling in America.
Q Can you talk briefly about the CRA and the decisions that are being made by the administration, and how this intersects with the President’s larger tax plan for the American people? You talked about saving the taxpayers money. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship briefly?
MR. SHORT: I wouldn’t want to exaggerate the relationship with tax reform. I think that we have been in contact with the Speaker and the Leader about prioritizing which CRAs are brought up and when. So there is a concerted and coordinated strategy on that. I think tax reform is simply going to be a separate vehicle in which we’re trying to prioritize tax breaks to the middle class that we feel are getting crushed.
Q On tax reform, the President — like most politicians, but maybe more so — has not spoken much in the language of trade-offs, which obviously tax reform will require. How are you planning on selling this? Because the healthcare — that was one of the difficulties. How are you going to sell tax reform and make sure that the trade-offs don’t become an impediment and helping the President adjust his language?
MR. SHORT: I think that healthcare — conversations that we’ve had have shown that in many cases Democrats recognize the challenge to the current healthcare system, and they’re uncomfortable with the increases that they face for — the constituents have faced. But I think the effort of repealing Obamacare would be something that would complicate their base. And so there’s probably less partnership in that.
Tax reform, though, I think we find that there will be, actually, interest. In many cases, many Democrats have reached out to say that they want to help on this process too. They recognize it’s been 30 years since significant tax reform was done. So I don’t necessarily say that one is conditional upon the other. I think there will be bipartisan interest to work on tax reform.
Q On the CRA, there is a legal theory percolating around out there that the CRA applies not just to regulations but sort of guidance, documents, other sort of soft regulations. And if those were never submitted to Congress or their GAO, that 60-day clock never started. Is the administration doing anything on that issue to do a retrospective look at whether there may be additional regulatory dark matter that could be submitted through the CRA process?
MR. SHORT: You can answer him.
MR. KOENIG: As far as we know, counterparts in the Senate are taking a look at that. There’s some guidance that we need from folks on the Hill, from congressional researchers. So they’re looking at it. We haven’t weighed in one way or the other on that. We’re focused on the ones that are clearly within the statute.
Q Who at the White House has been spearheading sort of identifying the regulations that could be rolled back, which ones you wanted to roll back? Has this been a Hill-driven process mostly? And who has been — sort of who are the different players here?
MR. SHORT: It’s no doubt a process that is driven by the Hill, but it’s one in which we’ve been in coordination with them. So that’s partly my job. I lean on Andy to be the brains of our leg affairs team, so he helps me understand, from a policy perspective, which ones are most important. But no doubt that the way legislation is drafted is for Congress to take the lead in repealing executive branch regulations.
Q So if the point of all this is to create jobs and stimulate the economy, how does repealing Internet privacy rules do that?
MR. SHORT: It’s fair — as I said in the beginning — that not each one of these can you look at and say it is necessarily a job creator. There are some that I think are addressing other regulations.
So I accept your premise, but I would ask you to look back and say that many of these do, in fact, have significant job impact. And as I opened, what we’re trying to say is, there’s been an enormous effort, not just in CRAs but also in executive orders, to try to address the regulatory burden. And this is one way that we’re hoping you’ll take a fresh look in saying, this window closes at the end of April, so therefore it’s worth us taking a look and saying, okay, what has been the collective effort between the administration and Congress to address this. I accept your point that not every single one —
Q What was the point of repealing it, though? What was the point of repealing that one? Or what is your justification for that, is my question.
MR. SHORT: Do you want to address what Senator Flake’s initiative?
MR. KOENIG: It’s duplicative of FTC regulations that are already in place, as another layer of compliance for ISPs that were already, as I said, regulated under FTC, and was now adding a FCC requirement that was treating them as if they were outside of the sphere of other Internet providers.
This wasn’t something that was being applied to search engines. This wasn’t something that was being applied to social media providers. So this was something that was duplicative of regulations that were already on the books and not necessary in our opinion.
Q I wanted to follow up on how this is — in totality, this is a real news story. Is there a concern that the President is going to get through his first 100 days without any significant legislation? Is that one of the reasons you’re here?
MR. SHORT: I think there is a concern that this is an important story that has not been told. I’ll leave for others to shape the first hundred days. I think that, when you look back and you say, in the hundred days we will confirm a Supreme Court Justice, I consider that a pretty significant achievement.
So I’m not here from a position of saying we need to justify the first hundred days. I do think that this is a story that has not been told, and I think that there are other stories that — obviously, you have your own jobs to do that are easier to explain to the American people. And certainly healthcare, the Supreme Court, others are out there. But this, I think, is an untold one, which is why we wanted to be here and share it with you today.
MR. KOENIG: Mark, thank you very much. And I guess I would just add to this, part of — to follow up on your question here, we’re also trying to make administration officials available to talk through a lot of — on background — a lot of these issues to help explain them. So hopefully, if these aren’t helpful to you all, let us know and we’ll stop doing them. But, I mean, to your point —
Q No, they are. (Laughter.)
MR. KOENIG: So we’re trying to create more of a dialogue and make stars out of our administration officials. So I do have the paperwork that Marc referenced, so I can hand these out.
And actually, before we all go, I want one other thing clear about this. This was on the record. You can use this. We also are going to try — we will let you know when these are on background, but we’ve heard the requests that many have made that we need to do more of these on record, and this was on the record, and we’ll try to do more.
11:01 A.M. EDT