No time constraints for rolling back regulations

March 03, 2017 | By JEFF MCCOY

One key provision of the Congressional Review Act (CRA) requires streamlined procedures in the Senate when it votes to overturn an agency regulation. Specifically, when a resolution is referred to the Senate floor, it cannot be amended nor filibustered, and debate on the resolution is limited to a maximum of 10 hours.

Some reporters and Hill staff, however, mistakenly believe that the maximum 10 hour period for Senate debate cannot be reduced further without unanimous consent or a supermajority vote. This is incorrect. The relevant CRA provision limits debate on a CRA resolution  “to not more than 10 hours, which shall be divided equally between those favoring and those opposing the joint resolution. A motion further to limit debate is in order and not debatable.” So, any Senator can move to limit debate time to under 10 hours.

Because such a motion is “not debatable,” it must be immediately voted on and only requires a simple majority to pass. Under traditional Senate procedures, a vote on a motion or resolution only occurs with unanimous consent or after 60 Senators vote to “invoke cloture,” which is a special motion to cut off debate. But when a motion cannot be debated, no cloture vote is required to cut off debate on it. As a result, a majority of Senators can vote to set the debate time on a CRA resolution of disapproval to any amount under 10 hours, including setting no debate time.

Senators should not feel constrained by a perceived requirement to give every CRA resolution 10 hours of debate time. Some rules may merit that much attention before an up-or-down vote, but the resolutions of disapproval themselves are not amendable, and the Senate rarely allocates 10 hours of debate to an unamendable, one-paragraph resolution.  Ultimately, the CRA allows a bare majority of senators to decide the amount of precious floor time each resolution will receive (up to 10 hours) and how many regulations are rolled back.