The Environmental Protection Agency finalized its regulations implementing Obama's clean-energy plan earlier this month, after collecting public comments and making revisions for more than a year. To rescind those regulations, a new president would have to start the whole process all over again — taking the time to write a proposed rule, then gathering public feedback, and eventually finalizing a new and contradictory policy. It's a long road and a hard tactic to justify, regulatory experts said.
"Just the change of administration itself is not a sufficient reason to change a regulation," Coglianese said.
The same limitations would apply to most of Obamacare. Most of the law has been implemented, so there's not much a new president could freeze. And to undo what has already been done would require the next administration to reopen a whole host of rules — then commit at least a year to a fight over Obama's health care agenda, rather than the new president's.
Political will is always a factor as new administrations decide which of their predecessors' actions they want to reverse, experts said, even in cases when the process itself wouldn't be as difficult as reopening a regulation.
Susan Dudley, who led the White House's regulatory-review office during the George W. Bush administration and now teaches at George Washington University, said the next president's chief of staff will probably issue a memo on Day One freezing regulations that are already in the pipeline. It's a chance for the new administration to apply its policy priorities to the first batch of rules that will be issued on its watch.
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There are still changes a new president could make while that review is under way, Dudley noted. Rescinding an executive order, for example, is as easy as signing a new one. Theoretically, that would allow a Republican president to easily undo a slew of Obama's orders — raising the minimum wage for federal contractors, extending new protections to gay employees, etc.
But experts said it's not very common to see big policy reversals early in an administration. Recent presidents might pick one or two things to quickly reverse or reopen, they said, but they have generally preferred to use their early political capital on nominations and legislation.
If the next president does want to pick a few spots to quickly and unilaterally roll back Obama's policies, immigration might be the easiest target. Obama's deferred-deportation program wasn't even an executive order, but rather an "executive action" — a directive about how immigration officials should prioritize their resources. Issuing a new directive would fall squarely within the new president's authority and would barely require any formal action.
"Things that are being done as policy initiatives are easier to reverse," said Ron White, the director of regulatory policy at the Center for Effective Government.