Before he even took office, Donald Trump was bragging about his presidency’s benefit to American consumers. “Thanks Donald!” he tweeted in December, after consumer confidence hit a 15-year high. On Monday, the president marked National Consumer Protection Week by touting “the importance of empowering consumers by helping them to more capably identify and report cyber scams, monitor their online privacy and security, and make well-informed decisions.”
“Our work to protect consumers from identity theft, abuse of personal information, and fraud, and to improve the integrity and security of our marketplaces, enhances the prosperity of our great country,” he said in a presidential proclamation.
But early in his presidency, Trump has already rolled out a plethora of policies that will hurt American consumers.
Late last week, his administration shelved two proposed Obama-era rules on airlines: one requiring baggage fees to be posted alongside airfare, the other requesting information about how airlines market flights on comparison websites like Kayak and Expedia (the concern being that visitors to those sites don’t see all available fares). Airlines for America, a trade association and lobbying group for the major airlines, applauded the decision.
As Gabrielle Bluestone wrote for VICE News on Monday, “the Trump administration recently eliminated or proposed eliminating a host of consumer protections, from a requirement that users opt in before cable and telecommunications companies are allowed to sell their web browsing data to advertisers, to a rule that would have required financial advisors to make decisions in the best interests of their clients.”
The New York Times reported on Sunday that more than 90 regulations have been “delayed, suspended or reversed in the month and a half since President Trump took office”:
Giants in telecommunications, like Verizon and AT&T, will not have to take “reasonable measures” to ensure that their customers’ Social Security numbers, web browsing history and other personal information are not stolen or accidentally released.
Wall Street banks like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase will not be punished, at least for now, for not collecting extra money from customers to cover potential losses from certain kinds of high-risk trades that helped unleash the 2008 financial crisis.
The Times called it “one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades,” and “the leading edge” chief strategist Steve Bannon’s “deconstruction of the administrative state.” Moreover, the paper found that in many cases, “the changes came after appeals by corporate lobbyists and trade association executives, who see a potentially historic opportunity to lower compliance costs and drive up profits.”
Trump and Republicans are also looking to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, an independent government watchdog created under President Barack Obama. “Republicans have introduced legislation that would change the CFPB’s leadership structure, replacing the one-person directorship with a five-person commission, which could effectively slow or stymie the agency’s aggressive consumer protection actions in an effort to get a consensus,” Washington Post columnist Michelle Singletary wrote last month. Meanwhile, conservatives are building a legal case to remove the agency’s director, Richard Cordray, before his term ends next summer.
Then there’s Trump’s trade policy. In January, Brookings Institution fellow, Dany Bahar criticized the president’s plan to slap a 35 percent tariff on imports. “Not only will it not protect the American worker, it will strongly hurt the American consumer,” he wrote. “This is simply because if imports turn out to be more expensive than before, it is the American consumers, and no one else, who will have to pay for that extra 35 percent that will be added to goods’ price tags.”
The Republicans’ proposed “border adjustability tax” would also hurt consumers. “This levy will cost American consumers at least a trillion dollars over the next ten years,” Steve Forbes, the chairman of Forbes Media and a two-time Republican candidate for president, wrote in January. “Knowing how Washington politicians calculate these things, you can bet the amount will end up being considerably more. Prices for everyday items, such as socks, shoes and household appliances, will go up. So will tech devices like the iPad, not to mention automobiles and trucks. Gasoline? Millions of Americans will pay an additional 30 cents or more per gallon at the pump. Lower-income and struggling middle-class Americans will get hit the hardest.”
Trump has also vowed to dismantle the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, and he and the GOP are in the process—albeit a floundering one—of doing the same to Obamacare. The plan unveiled by House Republicans on Monday amounts to a tax cut for the rich while making it tougher for Obamacare’s most vulnerable customers—the poor, sick, and elderly—to find affordable care.
“For too long, a small group in our nation’s Capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost,” Trump lamented in his inaugural address. Not even two months later, it’s clear that the American people will bear an even greater cost under Trump.