On the campaign trail in 2015, Donald Trump said it was “disgusting” that a big corporation could escape taxation by using bookkeeping tricks to shift profits out of the United States.

Now the Trump administration is thinking about making it easier to play those tricks. Bloomberg reported that the Treasury Department, in a development sure to gladden the hearts of the corporate class, was considering a rollback of rules written by the Obama administration to prevent the very kinds of shenanigans Mr. Trump once condemned.

While Congress focuses on the question of whether to impeach Mr. Trump, the potential change in tax policy is a reminder that the wheels of the government grind on — and that Mr. Trump’s administration continues to make decisions that are bad for most Americans.

In recent months, the Agriculture Department has decided to reduce inspections at the slaughterhouses that process the nation’s pork; the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to let farmers and factories dump toxic chemicals into thousands of acres of previously protected wetlands; and the Labor Department has ruled that states can perform drug tests on applicants for unemployment benefits, allowing Texas, Mississippi and Wisconsin to begin efforts to curtail aid for people who need help.

These changes in regulatory policy are part of a clear pattern. The Trump administration has worked assiduously to reduce federal protections for consumers, workers and the environment, making the United States a dirtier and more dangerous place in which to live.

The Trump administration also continues to flout its obligation to comply with existing law.

A federal judge said that the Education Department, under the leadership of Betsy DeVos, had committed 16,000 violations of a court order by improperly seeking to collect student loan payments, including docking paychecks and confiscating tax refunds.

Magistrate Judge Sallie Kim of the United States District Court in San Francisco described the department’s behavior as “deeply disturbing,” adding, “I’m not sending anyone to jail yet, but it’s good to know I have that ability.”

The Obama administration erased the debts of thousands of former students of Corinthian Colleges, a for-profit company that went out of business in 2015, under a policy that forgives the loans of students who are the victims of a fraud.

Under Ms. DeVos, however, the department began to grant only partial debt relief to Corinthian students, prompting a lawsuit. Judge Kim ordered the government to suspend its collection efforts while the case winds through the courts. She said she was “astounded” by the failure to comply.

Meanwhile, the department has finalized a new rule making it much harder for future student loan recipients to get relief from the government even if they are victims of fraud.

The Trump administration’s regulatory policy can generally be summarized as marching to the orders of the businesses it regulates. Indeed, the administration has pushed so hard to reduce regulation that even companies have sometimes expressed reservations: Four major automobile manufacturers have refused to embrace Mr. Trump’s campaign to prevent California from reducing air pollution, instead striking a deal with California to meet stricter emissions standards.

Mr. Trump also has an obsession with erasing rules written under President Barack Obama.

The potential rewrite of the tax rules governing corporate profits is an example of both tendencies. Corporations dislike the Obama-era rules, which cracked down on the practice of sending profits to a foreign branch, lending the money back to the home office and then writing off the interest expense. Under the rules, the government can prevent companies from treating those transfers as loans, and thus from claiming the resulting tax benefits.

Corporations argue that the current rule is broad, burdensome, and no longer necessary because the 2017 tax law limited the incentive for profit-shifting by reducing the tax rate on corporate income.

But that overstates the effect of the law, which still leaves room for companies to hide profits in other jurisdictions. There is simply no good reason to weaken the Obama-era rule.

The administration’s penchant for this kind of petty vandalism does not add one whit to the case for Mr. Trump’s impeachment. It is instead a reminder that if Mr. Trump does stand for re-election in 2020, Americans can improve their lives by voting for someone else.

Copyright The New York Times. Reprinted with permission.


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