What is the Congressional Review Act?

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) was passed in March 1996 and signed by President Bill Clinton as part of a larger regulatory reform measure. Pub. L. 104–121, Title II, Subtitle E, codified at 5 U.S.C. §§801-08 (2012). The CRA requires regulatory agencies to send every rule with a short report to both Houses of Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before the rule can go into effect. Congress can then schedule simple-majority, up-or-down votes on rules it wants to disapprove using fast-track procedures.

The CRA defines a “rule” very broadly to include both formal notice-and-comment regulations and informal agency statements regarding governing laws. Although it does not apply to presidential executive orders or proclamations, it applies to almost any regulatory agency document that impacts the general public, including “Dear Colleague” letters and enforcement guidance documents, even if they were never published in the Federal Register. All such rules may be overruled by the CRA’s streamlined procedures, whether they are determined to be “major” rules or not. However, major rules, as determined by the Office of Management and Budget, receive additional attention including reports by the GAO on them, and their effective date is usually extended during part of the congressional review period.

How is the Congressional Review Act used?

During the first 60 legislative or session days after a rule is received (the House uses the term “legislative day,” the Senate has “session days”), the CRA allows Congress to promptly overturn these rules without a Senate filibuster, with limited debate, and certain other expedited procedures. A joint resolution of disapproval must be presented to the President for his signature or veto, satisfying the Constitution’s Bicameralism and Presentment requirements. Enactment of such a resolution into law pursuant to the CRA kills the rule and prohibits an agency from adopting any “substantially similar” rule again without a new law authorizing it.

If a rule is delivered to Congress within the last 60 legislative or session days of a congressional session, a new period of expedited review begins on the 15th legislative or session day of the next congressional session. Because resolutions disapproving rules under the CRA must either secure the president’s signature or be passed in both Houses over his veto, the tool has only thus far overturned “midnight” regulations sent to Congress at the end of one administration and voted down and signed into law by the next president.


The Congressional Review Act (CRA) passed the House and Senate on March 28, 1996 as Subtitle E of Title II or a larger bill, which was signed by President Clinton the next day. As the below history relates, the CRA emerged from separate bills passed in the House and Senate during the previous year. The final text of the CRA was the subject of informal, bi-partisan negotiations between House and Senate sponsors before it was added to the larger bill. Because its text was not part of a House-Senate conference, there was no committee or conference report issued on it to either chamber. Floor statements, particularly those of the leading House sponsor, Rep. David McIntosh (R-IN), provide important context. But because of the lack of formal committee or conference reports on the bill that became law, the House and Senate sponsors agreed to an identical statement of its legislative history and entered it into the Congressional Record a few weeks later, after the intervening Easter recess. Below is the version Senator Don Nickles (R-OK) submitted for the Senate pages of the Congressional Record.  An identical legislative history, save the short introduction, was entered into the House pages of the Congressional Record by Rep. Henry Hyde at 142 Cong. Rec. 6922-6926 (1996). Because there was little legislative history of the final text of the CRA prior to its passage and this joint statement was issued soon after passage, scholars and courts have credited it as the best evidence of congressional intent regarding and the meaning of the CRA’s text.

Transcribed Statement for the Record by Senators Nickles, Reid, and Stevens


Mr. NICKLES. Mr. President, I will submit for the Record a statement which serves to provide a detailed explanation and a legislative history for the congressional review title of H.R. 3136, the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996. H.R. 3136 was passed by the Senate on March 28, 1996, and was signed by the President the next day. Ironically, the President signed the legislation on the first anniversary of the passage of S. 219, the forerunner to the congressional review title. Last year, S. 219, passed the Senate by a vote of 100 to 0 on March 29, 1995. Because title III of H.R. 3136 was the product of negotiation with the Senate and did not go through the committee process, no other expression of its legislative history exists other than the joint statement made by Senator Reid and myself immediately before passage of H.R. 3136 on March 28. I am submitting a joint statement to be printed in the Record on behalf of myself, as the sponsor of the S. 219, Senator Reid, the prime cosponsor of S. 219, and Senator Stevens, the chairman of the Committee on Governmental Affairs. This joint statement is intended to provide guidance to the agencies, the courts, and other interested parties when interpreting the act’s terms. The same statement has been submitted today in the House by the chairmen of the committees of jurisdiction over the congressional review legislation.


Subtitle E adds a new chapter to the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), “Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking,” which is codified in the United States Code as chapter 8 of title 5. The congressional review chapter creates a special mechanism for Congress to review new rules issued by federal agencies (including modification, repeal, or reissuance of existing rules). During the review period, Congress may use expedited procedures to enact joint resolutions of disapproval to overrule the federal rulemaking actions. In the 104th Congress, four slightly different versions of this legislation passed the Senate and two different versions passed the House. Yet, no formal legislative history document was prepared to explain the legislation or the reasons for changes in the final language negotiated between the House and Senate. This joint statement of the authors on the congressional review subtitle is intended to cure this deficiency.


As the number and complexity of federal statutory programs has increased over the last fifty years, Congress has come to depend more and more upon Executive Branch agencies to fill out the details of the programs it enacts. As complex as some statutory schemes passed by Congress are, the implementing regulations are often more complex by several orders of magnitude. As more and more of Congress’ legislative functions have been delegated to federal regulatory agencies, many have complained that Congress has effectively abdicated its constitutional role as the national legislature in allowing federal agencies so much latitude in implementing and interpreting congressional enactments.

In many cases, this criticism is well founded. Our constitutional scheme creates a delicate balance between the appropriate roles of the Congress in enacting laws, and the Executive Branch in implementing those laws. This legislation will help to redress the balance, reclaiming for Congress some of its policy making authority, without at the same time requiring Congress to become a super regulatory agency.

This legislation establishes a government-wide congressional review mechanism for most new rules. This allows Congress the opportunity to review a rule before it takes effect and to disapprove any rule to which Congress objects. Congress may find a rule to be too burdensome, excessive, inappropriate or duplicative. Subtitle E uses the mechanism of a joint resolution of disapproval which requires passage by both houses of Congress and the President (or veto by the President and a two-thirds’ override by Congress) to be effective. In other words, enactment of a joint resolution of disapproval is the same as enactment of a law.

Congress has considered various proposals for reviewing rules before they take effect for almost twenty years. Use of a simple (one-house), concurrent (two-house), or joint (two houses plus the President) resolution are among the options that have been debated and in some cases previously implemented on a limited basis. In INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983), the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional any procedure where executive action could be overturned by less than the full process required under the Constitution to make laws–that is, approval by both houses of Congress and presentment to the President. That narrowed Congress’ options to use a joint resolution of disapproval. The one-house or two-house legislative veto (as procedures involving simple and concurrent resolutions were previously called), was thus voided.

Because Congress often is unable to anticipate the numerous situations to which the laws it passes must apply, Executive Branch agencies sometimes develop regulatory schemes at odds with congressional expectations. Moreover, during the time lapse between passage of legislation and its implementation, the nature of the problem addressed, and its proper solution, can change. Rules can be surprisingly different from the expectations of Congress or the public. Congressional review gives the public the opportunity to call the attention of politically accountable, elected officials to concerns about new agency rules. If these concerns are sufficiently serious, Congress can stop the rule.


In the 104th Congress, the congressional review legislation originated as S. 348, the “Regulatory Oversight Act,” which was introduced on February 2, 1995. The text of S. 348 was offered by its sponsors, Senators Don Nickles and Harry Reid, as a substitute amendment to S. 219, the “Regulatory Transition Act of 1995.” As amended, S. 219 provided for a 45-day delay on the effectiveness of a major rule, and provided expedited procedures that Congress could use to pass resolutions disapproving of the rule. On March 29, 1995, the Senate passed the amended version of S. 219 by a vote of 100-0. The Senate later substituted the text of S. 219 for the text of H.R. 450, the House passed “Regulatory Transition Act of 1995.” Although the House did not agree to a conference on H.R. 450 and S. 219, both Houses continued to incorporate the congressional review provisions in other legislative packages. On May 25, the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee reported out S. 343, the “Comprehensive Regulatory Reform Act of 1995,” and S. 291, the “Regulatory Reform Act of 1995,” both with congressional review provisions. On May 26, 1995, the Senate Judiciary Committee reported out a different version of S. 343, the “Comprehensive Regulatory Reform Act of 1995,” which also included a congressional review provision. The congressional review provision in S. 343 that was debated by the Senate was quite similar to S. 219, except that the delay period in the effectiveness of a major rule was extended to 60 days and the legislation did not apply to rules issued prior to enactment. A filibuster of S. 343, unrelated to the congressional review provisions, led to the withdrawal of that bill.

The House next took up the congressional review legislation by attaching a version of it (as section 3006) to H.R. 2586, the first debt limit extension bill. The House made several changes in the legislation that was attached to H.R. 2586, including a provision that would allow the expedited procedures also to apply to resolutions disapproving of proposed rules, and provisions that would have extended the 60-day delay on the effectiveness of a major rule for any period when the House or Senate was in recess for more than three days. On November 9, 1995 both the House and Senate passed this version of the congressional review legislation as part of the first debt limit extension bill. President Clinton vetoed the bill a few days later, for reasons unrelated to the congressional review provision.

On February 29, 1996, a House version of the congressional review legislation was published in the Congressional Record to the House floor in the coming weeks. The congressional review title was almost identical to the legislation approved by both Houses in H.R. 2586. On March 19, 1996, the Senate adopted a congressional review amendment by voice vote to S. 942, which bill passed the Senate 100-0. The congressional review legislation in S. 942 was similar to the original version of S. 219 that passed the Senate on March 29, 1995.

Soon after passage of S. 942, representatives of the relevant House and Senate committees and principal sponsors of the congressional review legislation met to craft a congressional review subtitle that was acceptable to both Houses and would be added to the debt limit bill that was scheduled to be taken up in Congress the week of March 24. The final compromise language was the result of these joint discussions and negotiations.

On March 28, 1996, the House and Senate passed title III, the “Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996,” as part of the second debt limit bill, H.R. 3136. There was no separate vote in either body on the congressional review subtitle or on title III of H.R. 3136. However, title III received broad support in the House and the entire bill passed in the Senate by unanimous consent. The President signed H.R. 3136 into law on March 29, 1996, exactly one year after the first congressional review bill passed the Senate.


Pursuant to subsection 801(a)(1)(A), a federal agency promulgating a rule must submit a copy of the rule and a brief report about it to each House of Congress and to the Comptroller General before the rule can take effect. In addition to a copy of the rule, the report shall contain a concise general statement relating to the rule, including whether it is a major rule under the chapter, and the proposed effective date of the rule. Because most rules covered by the chapter must be published in the Federal Register before they can take effect, it is not expected that the submission of the rule and the report to Congress and the Comptroller General will lead to any additional delay.

Section 808 provides the only exception to the requirement that rules must be submitted to each House of Congress and the Comptroller General before they can take effect. Subsection 808(1) excepts specified rules relating to commercial, recreational, or subsistence hunting, fishing, and camping. Subsection 808(2) excepts certain rules that are not subject to notice-and-comment procedures. It provides that if the relevant agency finds “for good cause . . . that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest, [such rules] shall take effect at such time as the Federal agency promulgating the rule determines.” Although rules described in section 808 shall take effect when the relevant Federal agency determines pursuant to other provisions of law, the federal agency still must submit such rules and the accompanying report to each House of Congress and to the Comptroller General as soon as practicable after promulgation. Thus, rules described in section 808 are subject to congressional review and the expedited procedures governing joint resolutions of disapproval. Moreover, the congressional review period will not begin to run until such rules and the accompanying reports are submitted to each House of Congress and the Comptroller General.

In accordance with current House and Senate rules, covered agency rules and the accompanying report must be separately addressed and transmitted to the Speaker of the House (the Capitol, Room H-209), the President of the Senate (the Capitol, Room S-212), and the Comptroller General (GAO Building, 441 G Street, N.W., Room 1139). Except for rules described in section 808, any covered rule not submitted to Congress and the Comptroller General will remain ineffective until it is submitted pursuant to subsection 801(a)(1)(A). In almost all cases, there will be sufficient time for an agency to submit notice-and-comment rules or other rules, that must be published to these legislative officers during normal office hours. There may be rare instance, however, when a federal agency must issue an emergency rule that is effective upon actual notice and does not meet one of the section 808 exceptions. In such a rare case, the federal agency may provide contemporaneous notice to the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the Comptroller General. These legislative officers have accommodated the receipt of similar, emergency communications in the past and will utilize the same means to receive emergency rules and reports during nonbusiness hours. If no other means of delivery is possible, delivery of the rule and related report by telefax to the Speaker of the House, the President of the Senate, and the Comptroller General shall satisfy the requirements of subsection 801(a)(1)(A).


Subsection 553(d) of the APA requires publication or service of most substantive rules at least 30 days prior to their effective date. Pursuant to subsection 801(a)(3)(A), a major rule (as defined in subsection 804(2)) shall not take effect until at least 60 calendar days after the later of the date on which the rule and accompanying information is submitted to Congress or the date on which the rule is published in the Federal Register, if it is so published. If the Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval and the President vetoes such resolution, the delay in the effectiveness of a major rule is extended by subsection 801(a)(3)(B) until the earlier date on which either House of Congress votes and fails to override the veto or 30 session days * after the date on which the Congress receives the veto and objections from the President. By necessary implication, if the Congress passes a joint resolution of disapproval within the 60 calendar days provided in subsection 801(a)(3)(A), the delay period in the effectiveness of a major rule must be extended at least until the President acts on the joint resolution or until the time expires for the President to act. Any other result would be inconsistent with subsection 801(a)(3)(B), which extends the delay in the effectiveness of a major rule for a period of time after the President vetoes a resolution.

Of course, if Congress fails to pass a joint resolution of disapproval within the 60-day period provided by subsection 801(a)(3)(A), subsection 801(a)(3)(B) would not apply and would not further delay the effective date of the rule. Moreover, pursuant to subsection 801(a)(5), the effective date of a rule shall not be delayed by this chapter beyond the date on which either house of Congress votes to reject a joint resolution of disapproval.

Although it is not expressly provided in the congressional review chapter, it is the authors’ intent that a rule may take effect if an adjournment of Congress prevents the President from returning his veto and objections within the meaning of the Constitution. Such will be the case if the President does not act on a joint resolution within 10 days (Sundays excepted) after it is presented to him, and “the Congress by their Adjournment prevent its Return” within the meaning of Article I, Sec. 7, cl. 2, or when the President affirmatively vetoes a resolution during such an adjournment. This is the logical result because Congress cannot act to override these vetoes. Congress would have to begin anew, pass a second resolution, and present it to the President in order for it to become law. It is also the authors’ intent that a rule may take effect immediately if the President returns a veto and his objections to Congress but Congress adjourns its last session sine die before the expiration of time provided in subsection 801(a)(3)(B). Like the situations described immediately above, no subsequent Congress can act further on the veto, and the next Congress would have to begin anew, pass a second resolution of disapproval, and present it to the President in order for it to become law.

*In the Senate, a ”session day” is a calendar day in which the Senate is in session. In the House of Representatives, the same term is normally expressed as a ”legislative day.” In the congressional review chapter, however, the term ”session day” means both a ”session day” of the Senate and a ”legislative day” of the House of Representatives unless the context of the sentence or paragraph indicates otherwise.


The reason for the delay in the effectiveness of a major rule beyond that provided in APA subsection 553(d) is to try to provide Congress with an opportunity to act on resolutions of disapproval before regulated parties must invest the significant resources necessary to comply with a major rule. Congress may continue to use the expedited procedures to pass resolutions of disapproval for a period of time after a major rule takes effect, but it would be preferable for Congress to act during the delay period so that fewer resources would be wasted. To increase the likelihood that Congress would act before a major rule took effect, the authors agreed on an approximately 60-day delay period in the effective date of a major rule, rather than an approximately 45-day delay period in some earlier versions of the legislation.

There are four exceptions to the required delay in the effectiveness of a major rule in the congressional review chapter. The first is in subsection 801(c), which provides that a major rule is not subject to the delay period of subsection 801(a)(3) if the President determines in an executive order that one of four specified situations exist and notifies Congress of his determination. The second is in subsection 808(1), which excepts specified rules relating to commercial, recreational, or subsistence hunting, fishing, and camping from the initial delay specified in subsection 801(a)(1)(A) and from the delay in the effective date of a major rule provided in subsection 801(a)(3). The third is in subsection 808(2), which excepts certain rules from the initial delay specified in subsection 801(a)(1)(A) and from the delay in the effective date of a major rule provided in subsection 801(a)(3) if the relevant agency finds “for good cause . . . that notice and public procedure thereon are impracticable, unnecessary, or contrary to the public interest.” This “good cause” exception in subsection 808(2) is taken from the APA and applies only to rules which are exempt from notice and comment under subsection 553(b)(B) or an analogous statute. The fourth exception is in subsection 804(2). Any rule promulgated under the Telecommunications Act of 1996 or any amendments made by that Act that otherwise could be classified as a “major rule” is exempt from that definition and from the 60-day delay in section 801(a)(3). However, such an issuance still would fall within the definition of “rule” and would be subject to the requirements of the legislation for non-major rules. A determination under subsection 801(c), subsection 804(2), or section 808 shall have no effect on the procedures to enact joint resolutions of disapproval.


The authors discussed the relationship between the period of time that a major rule is delayed and the period of time during which Congress could use the expedited procedures in section 802 to pass a resolution of disapproval. Although it would be best for Congress to act pursuant to this chapter before a major rule goes into effect, it was recognized that Congress could not often act immediately after a rule was issued because it may be issued during a recesses of Congress, shortly before such recesses, or during other periods when Congress cannot devote the time to complete prompt legislative action. Accordingly, the authors determined that the proper public policy was to give Congress an adequate opportunity to deliberate and act on joint resolutions of disapproval, while ensuring that major rules could go into effect without unreasonable delay. In short, the authors decided that major rules could take effect after an approximate 60-day delay, but the period governing the expedited procedures in section 802 for review of joint resolution of disapproval would extend for a period of time beyond that.

Accordingly, courts may not stay or suspend the effectiveness of any rule beyond the periods specified in section 801 simply because a joint resolution is pending before Congress. Such action would be contrary to the many express provisions governing when different types of rules may take effect. Such court action also would be contrary to the authors’ intent because it would upset an important compromise on how long a delay there should be on the effectiveness of a major rule. The final delay period was selected as a compromise between the period specified in the version that passed the Senate on March 19, 1995, and the version that passed both Houses on November 9, 1995. It is also the authors’ belief that such court action would be inconsistent with the principles of (and potentially violate) the Constitution, art. I, Sec. 7, cl. 2, in that courts may not give legal effect to legislative action unless it results in the enactment of law pursuant that Clause. See INS v. Chadha, 462 U.S. 919 (1983). Finally, the authors intend that a court may not predicate a stay on the basis of possible future congressional action because it would be improper for a court to rule that the movant had demonstrated a “likelihood of success on the merits,” unless and until a joint resolution is enacted into law. A judicial stay prior to that time would raise serious separation of powers concerns because it would be tantamount to the court making a prediction of what Congress is likely to do and then exercising its own power in furtherance of that prediction. Indeed, the authors intend that Congress may have been reluctant to pass congressional review legislation at all if its action or inaction pursuant to this chapter would be treated differently than its action or inaction regarding any other bill or resolution.


Subsection 802(a) provides that a joint resolution disapproving of a particular rule may be introduced in either House beginning on the date of the rule and accompanying report are received by Congress until 60 calendar days thereafter (excluding days either House of Congress is adjourned for more than 3 days during a session of Congress). But if Congress did not have sufficient time in a previous session to introduce or consider a resolution of disapproval, as set forth in subsection 801(d), the rule and accompanying report will be treated as if it were first received by Congress on the 15th session day in the Senate, or 15th legislative day in the House, after the start of its next session. When a rule was submitted near the end of a Congress or prior to the start of the next Congress, a joint resolution of disapproval regarding that rule may be introduced in the next Congress beginning on the 15th session day in the Senate or the 15th legislative day in the House until 60 calendar days thereafter (excluding days either House of Congress is adjourned for more than 3 days during the session) regardless of whether such a resolution was introduced in the prior Congress. Of course, any joint resolution pending from the first session of a Congress, may be considered further in the nest session of the same Congress.

Subsections 802(c)-(d) specify special procedures that apply to the consideration of a joint resolution of disapproval in the Senate. Subsection 803(c) allows 30 Senators to petition for the discharge of resolution from a Senate committee after a specified period of time (the later of 20 calendar days after the rule is submitted to Congress or published in the Federal Register, if it is so published). Subsection 802(d) specifies procedures for the consideration of a resolution on the Senate floor. Such a resolution is highly privileged, points or order are waived, a motion to postpone consideration is not in order, the resolution is unamendable, and debate on the joint resolution and “on all debatable motions and appeals in connection therewith” (including a motion to proceed) is limited to no more than 10 hours.

Subsection 802(e) provides that the special Senate procedures specified in subsections 802(c)-(d) shall not apply to the consideration of any joint resolution of disapproval of a rule after 60 session days of the Senate beginning with the later date that rule is submitted to Congress or published, if it is so published. However, if a rule and accompanying report are submitted to Congress shortly before the end of a session or during an intersession recess as described in subsection 801(d)(1), the special Senate procedures specified in subsections 802(c)-(d) shall expire 60 session days after the 15th session day of the succeeding session of Congress–or on the 75th session day after the succeeding session of Congress first convenes. For purposes of subsection 802(e), the term “session day” refers only to a day the Senate is in session, rather than a day both Houses are in session. However, in computing the time specified in subsection 801(d)(1), that subsection specifies that there shall be an additional period of review in the next session if either House did not have an adequate opportunity to complete action on a joint resolution. Thus, if either House of Congress did not have adequate time to consider a joint resolution in a given session (60 session days in the Senate and 60 legislative days in the House), resolutions of disapproval may be introduced or reintroduced in both Houses in the next session, and the special Senate procedures specified in subsection 802(c)-(d) shall apply in the next session of the Senate.

If a joint resolution of disapproval is pending when the expedited Senate procedures specified in subsections 802(c)-(d) expire, the resolution shall not die in either House but shall simply be considered pursuant to the normal rules of either House–with one exception. Subsection 802(f) sets forth one unique provision that does not expire in either House. Subsection 802(f) provides procedures for passage of a joint resolution of disapproval when one House passes a joint resolution and transmits it to the other House that has not yet completed action. In both Houses, the joint resolution of the first House to act shall not be referred to a committee but shall be held at the desk. In the Senate, a House-passed resolution may be considered directly only under normal Senate procedures, regardless of when it is received by the Senate. A resolution of disapproval that originated in the Senate may be considered under the expedited procedures only during the period specified in subsection 802(e). Regardless of the procedures used to consider a joint resolution in either House, the final vote of the second House shall be on the joint resolution of the first House (no matter when that vote takes place). If the second House passes the resolution, no conference is necessary and the joint resolution will be presented to the President for his signature. Subsection 802(f) is justified because subsection 802(a) sets forth the required language of a joint resolution in each House, and thus, permits little variance in the joint resolutions that could be introduced in each House.


Subsection 801(b)(1) provides that: “A rule shall not take effect (or continue), if the Congress enacts a joint resolution of disapproval, described under section 802, of the rule.” Subsection 801(b)(2) provides that such a disapproved rule “may not be reissued in substantially the same form, and a new rule that is substantially the same as such a rule may not be issued, unless the reissued or new rule is specifically authorized by a law enacted after the date of the joint resolution disapproving the original rule.” Subsection 801(b)(2) is necessary to prevent circumvention of a resolution disapproval. Nevertheless, it may have a different impact on the issuing agencies depending on the nature of the underlying law that authorized the rule.

If the law that authorized the disapproved rule provides broad discretion to the issuing agency regarding the substance of such rule, the agency may exercise its broad discretion to issue a substantially different rule. If the law that authorized the disapproved rule did not mandate the promulgation of any rule, the issuing agency may exercise its discretion not to issue any new rule. Depending on the law that authorized the rule, an issuing agency may have both options. But if an agency is mandated to promulgate a particular rule and its discretion in issuing the rule is narrowly circumscribed, the enactment of a resolution of disapproval for that rule may work to prohibit the reissuance of any rule. The authors intend the debate on any resolution of disapproval to focus on the law that authorized the rule and make the congressional intent clear regarding the agency’s options or lack thereof after enactment of a joint resolution of disapproval. It will be the agency’s responsibility in the first instance when promulgating the rule to determine the range of discretion afforded under the original law and whether the law authorizes the agency to issue a substantially different rule. Then, the agency must give effect to the resolution of disapproval.


Section 805 provides that a court may not review any congressional or administrative “determination, finding, action, or omission under this chapter.” Thus, the major rule determinations made by the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs of the Office of Management and Budget are not subject to judicial review. Nor may a court review whether Congress complied with the congressional review procedures in this chapter. This latter limitation on the scope of judicial review was drafted in recognition of the constitutional right of each House of Congress to “determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” U.S. Const., art. I, Sec. 5, cl. 2, which includes being the final arbiter of compliance with such Rules.

The limitation on a court’s review of subsidiary determination or compliance with congressional procedures, however, does not bar a court from giving effect to a resolution of disapproval that was enacted into law. A court with proper jurisdiction may treat the congressional enactment of a joint resolution of disapproval as it would treat the enactment of any other federal law. Thus, a court with proper jurisdiction may review the resolution of disapproval and the law that authorized the disapproved rule to determine whether the issuing agency has the legal authority to issue a substantially different rule. The language of subsection 801(g) is also instructive. Subsection 801(g) prohibits a court or agency from inferring any intent of the Congress only when “Congress does not enact a joint resolution of disapproval,” or by implication, when it has not yet done so. In deciding cases or controversies properly before it, a court or agency must give effect to the intent of the Congress when such a resolution is enacted and becomes the law of the land. The limitation on judicial review in no way prohibits a court from determining whether a rule is in effect. For example, the authors expect that a court might recognize that a rule has no legal effect due to the operation of subsections 801(a)(1)(A) or 801(a)(3).


Subsection 801(f) provides that: “Any rule that takes effect and later is made of no force or effect by enactment of a joint resolution under section 802 shall be treated as though such rule had never taken effect.” Application of this subsection should be consistent with existing judicial precedents on rules that are deemed never to have taken effect.


Pursuant to subsection 801(a)(1)(B), the federal agency promulgating the rule shall submit to the Comptroller General (and make available to each House) (i) a complete copy of the cost-benefit analysis of the rule, if any, (ii) the agency’s actions related to the Regulatory Flexibility Act, (iii) the agency’s actions related to the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act, and (iv) “any other relevant information or requirements under any other Act and any relevant Executive Orders.” Pursuant to subsection 801(a)(1)(B), this information must be submitted to the Comptroller General on the day the agency submits the rule to Congress and to GAO.

The authors intend information supplied in conformity with subsection 801(a)(1)(B)(iv) to encompass both agency-specific statutes and government-wide statutes and executive orders that impose requirements relevant to each rule. Examples of agency-specific statutes include information regarding compliance with the law that authorized the rule and any agency-specific procedural requirements, such as section 9 of the Consumer Product Safety Act, as amended, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 2054 (procedures for consumer product safety rules); section 6 of the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, as amended, 29 U.S.C. Sec. 655 (promulgation of standards); section 307(d) of the Clean Air Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7607(d) (promulgation of rules); and section 501 of the Department of Energy Organization Act, 42 U.S.C. Sec. 7191 (procedure for issuance of rules, regulations, and orders). Examples of government-wide statutes include other chapters of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 551-559 and 701-706; and the Paperwork Reduction Act, as amended, 44 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 3501-3520.

Examples of relevant executive orders include E.O. No. 12866 (Sept. 30, 1993) (Regulatory Planning and Review); E.O. No. 12606 (Sept. 2, 1987) (Family Considerations in Policy Formulation and Implementation); E.O. No. 12612 (Oct. 26, 1987) (Federalism Considerations in Policy Formulation and Implementation); E.O. No. 12630 (Mar. 15, 1988) (Government Actions and Interference with Constitutionally Protected Property Rights); E.O. No. 23875 (Oct. 26, 1993) (Enhancing the Intergovernmental Partnership); E.O. No. 12778 (Oct. 23, 1991) (Civil Justice Reform); E.O. No. 12988 (Feb. 5, 1996) (Civil Justice Reform) (effective May 5, 1996).


Fifteen days after the federal agency submits a copy of a major rule and report to each House of Congress and the Comptroller General, the Comptroller General shall prepare and provide a report on the major rule to the committee of jurisdiction in each House. Subsection 801(a)(2)(B) requires agencies to cooperate with the Comptroller General in providing information relevant to the Comptroller General’s reports on major rules. Given the 15-day deadline for these reports, it is essential that the agencies’ initial submission to the General Accounting Office (GAO) contain all of the information necessary for GAO to conduct its analysis. At a minimum, the agency’s submission must include the information required of all rules pursuant to 801(a)(1)(B). Whenever possible, OMB should work with GAO to alert GAO when a major rule is likely to be issued and to provide as much advance information to GAO as possible on such proposed major rule. In particular, OMB should attempt to provide the complete cost-benefit analysis on a major rule, if any, well in advance of the final rule’s promulgation.

It also is essential for the agencies to present this information in a format that will facilitate the GAO’s analysis. The authors expect that GAO and OMB will work together to develop, to the greatest extent practicable, standard formats for agency submissions. OMB also should ensure that agencies follow such formats. The authors also expect that agencies will provide expeditiously any additional information that GAO may require for a thorough report. The authors do not intend the Comptroller General’s reports to be delayed beyond the 15-day deadline due to lack of information or resources unless the committees of jurisdiction indicate a different preference. Of course, the Comptroller General may supplement his initial report at any time with any additional information, on its own, or at the request of the relevant committees or jurisdiction.


The authors intend this chapter to be comprehensive in the agencies and entities that are subject to it. The term “Federal agency” in subsection 804(1) was taken from 5 U.S.C. Sec. 551(1). That definition includes “each authority of the Government” that is not expressly excluded by subsection 551(1)(A)-(H). With those few exceptions, the objective was to cover each and every government entity, whether it is a department, independent agency, independent establishment, or government corporation. This is because Congress is enacting the congressional review chapter, in large part, as an exercise of its oversight and legislative responsibility. Regardless of the justification for excluding or granting independence to some entities from the coverage of other laws, that justification does not apply to this chapter, where Congress has an interest in exercising its constitutional oversight and legislative responsibility as broadly as possible over all agencies and entities within its legislative jurisdiction.

In some instances, federal entities and agencies issue rules that are not subject to the traditional 5 U.S.C. Sec. 553(c) rulemaking process. However, the authors intend the congressional review chapter to cover every agency, authority, or entity covered by subsection 551(1) that establishes policies affecting any segment of the general public. Where it was necessary, a few special exceptions were provided, such as the exclusion for the monetary policy activities of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, rules of particular applicability, and rules of agency management and personnel. Where it was not necessary, no exemption was provided and no exemption should be inferred from other law. This is made clear by the provision of section 806 which states that the Act applies notwithstanding any other provision of law.


The definition of a “major rule” in subsection 804(2) is taken from President Reagan’s Executive Order 12291. Although President Clinton’s Executive Order 12866 contains a definition of a “significant regulatory action” that is seemingly as broad, several of the Administration’s significant rule determinations under Executive Order 12866 have been called into question. The authors intend the term “major rule” in this chapter to be broadly construed, including the non-numerical factors contained in the subsections 804(2)(B) and (C).

Pursuant to subsection 804(2), the Administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget (the Administrator) must make the major rule determination. The authors intend that centralizing this function in the Administrator will lead to consistency across agency lines. Moreover, from 1981-93 OIRA staff interpreted and applied the same major rule definition under E.O. 12291. Thus, the Administrator should rely on guidance documents prepared by OIRA during that time and previous major rule determinations from that Office as a guide in applying the statutory definition to new rules.

Certain covered agencies, including many “independent agencies,” include their proposed rules in the Unified Regulatory Agenda published by OMB but do not normally submit their final rules to OMB for review. Moreover, interpretative rules and general statements of policy are not normally submitted to OMB for review. Nevertheless, it is the Administrator that must make the major rule determination under this chapter whenever a new rule is issued. The Administrator may request the recommendation of any agency covered by this chapter on whether a proposed rule is a major rule within the meaning of subsection 804(2), but the Administrator is responsible for the ultimate determination. Thus, all agencies or entities covered by this chapter will have to coordinate their rulemaking activity with OIRA so that the Administrator may make the final, major rule determination.


The authors intend this chapter to be interpreted broadly with regard to the type and scope of rules that are subject to congressional review. The term “rule” in subsection 804(3) begins with the definition of a “rule” in subsection 551(4) and excludes three subsets of rules that are modeled on APA sections 551 and 553. This definition of a rule does not turn on whether a given agency must normally comply with the notice-and-comment provisions of the APA, or whether the rule at issue is subject to any other notice-and-comment procedures. The definition of “rule” in subsection 551(4) covers a wide spectrum of activities. First, there is formal rulemaking under section 553 that must adhere to procedures of sections 556 and 557 of title 5. Second, there is informal rulemaking, which must comply with the notice-and-comment requirements of subsection 553(c). Third, there are rules subject to the requirements of subsection 552(a)(1) and (2). This third category of rules normally either must be published in the Federal Register before they can adversely affect a person, or must be indexed and made available for inspection and copying or purchase before they can be used as precedent by an agency against a non-agency party. Documents covered by subsection 552(a) include statements of general policy, interpretations of general applicability, and administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public. Fourth, there is a body of materials that fall within the APA definition of “rule” and are the product of agency process, but that meet none of the procedural specifications of the first three classes. These include guidance documents and the like. For purposes of this section, the term rule also includes any rule, rule change, or rule interpretation by a self regulatory organization that is approved by a Federal agency. Accordingly, all “rules” are covered under this chapter, whether issued at the agency’s initiative or in response to a petition, unless they are expressly excluded by subsections 804(3)(A)-(C). The authors are concerned that some agencies have attempted to circumvent notice-and-comment requirements by trying to give legal effect to general statements of policy, “guidelines,” and agency policy and procedure manuals. The authors admonish the agencies that the APA’s broad definition of “rule” was adopted by the authors of this legislation to discourage circumvention of the requirements of chapter 8.

The definition of a rule in subsection 551(4) covers most agency statements of general applicability and future effect. Subsection 804(3)(A) excludes “any rule of particular applicability, including a rule that approves or prescribes rates, wages, prices, services, or allowances therefore, corporate and financial structures, reorganizations, mergers, or acquisitions thereof, or accounting practices or disclosures bearing on any of the foregoing” from the definition of a rule. Many agencies, including the Treasury, Justice, and Commerce Departments, issue letter rulings or other opinion letters to individuals who request a specific ruling on the facts of their situation. These letter rulings are sometimes published and relied upon by other people in similar situations, but the agency is not bound by the earlier rulings even on facts that are analogous. Thus, such letter rulings or opinion letters do not fall within the definition of a rule within the meaning of subsection 804(3).

The different types of rules issued pursuant to the internal revenue laws of the United States are good examples of the distinction between rules of general and particular applicability. IRS private letter rulings and Customs Service letter rulings are classic examples of rules of particular applicability, notwithstanding that they may be cited as authority in transactions involving the same circumstances. Examples of substantive and interpretative rules of general applicability will include most temporary and final Treasury regulations issued pursuant to notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures, and most revenue rulings, revenue procedures, IRS notices, and IRS announcements. It does not matter that these later types of rules are issued without notice-and-comments rulemaking procedures or that they are accorded less deference by the courts than notice-and-comment rules. In fact, revenue rulings have been described by the courts as the “classic example of an interpretative rul[e]” within the meaning of the APA. See Wing v. Commissioner, 81 T.C. 17, 26 (1983). The test is whether such rules announce a general statement of policy or an interpretation of law of general applicability.

Most rules or other agency actions that grant an approval, license, registration, or similar authority to a particular person or particular entities, or grant or recognize an exemption or relieve a restriction for a particular person or particular entities, or permit new or improved applications of technology for a particular person or particular entities, or allow the manufacture, distribution, sale, or use of a substance or product are exempted under subsection 804(3)(A) from the definition of a rule. This is probably the largest category of agency actions excluded from the definition of a rule. Examples include import and export licenses, individual rate and tariff approvals, wetlands permits, grazing permits, plant licenses or permits, drug and medical device approvals, new source review permits, hunting and fishing take limits, incidental take permits and habitat conservation plans, broadcast licenses, and product approvals, including approvals that set forth the conditions under which a product may be distributed.

Subsection 804(3)(B) excludes “any rule relating to agency management or personnel” from the definition of a rule. Pursuant to subsection 804(3)(C), however, a “rule of agency organization, procedure, or practice,” is only excluded if it “does not substantially affect the rights or obligations of non-agency parties.” The authors’ intent in these subsections is to exclude matters of purely internal agency management and organization, but to include matters that substantially affect the rights or obligations of outside parties. The essential focus of this inquiry is not on the type of rule but on its effect on the rights or obligations of non-agency parties.