In her most recent column, Kimberly Strassel writes that an idea I’ve been promoting is a “Regulatory Game Changer” that would allow Congress to “overrule Obama regulations going back to 2009.” This is incredibly flattering praise from Strassel, who is a Bradley Prize winner and author of the Potomac Watch column every Friday for The Wall Street Journal.
The subject of Strassel’s column today is a presentation I recently gave to free-market attorneys, scholars, and Capitol Hill staff on how the Congressional Review Act (CRA) can be used more aggressively to review and overturn burdensome and abusive regulations of the past eight to twenty years. The CRA creates expedited procedures for a simple majority of each House of Congress to overturn an agency regulation if the President signs the resolution.
Here’s how Strassel sets up the piece:
The accepted wisdom in Washington is that the CRA can be used only against new regulations, those finalized in the past 60 legislative days. That gets Republicans back to June, teeing up 180 rules or so for override. Included are biggies like the Interior Department’s “streams” rule, the Labor Department’s overtime-pay rule, and the Environmental Protection Agency’s methane rule.
But what Mr. Gaziano told [the gathering] on Wednesday was that the CRA grants them far greater powers, including the extraordinary ability to overrule regulations even back to the start of the Obama administration. The CRA also would allow the GOP to dismantle these regulations quickly, and to ensure those rules can’t come back, even under a future Democratic president. No kidding.
Here’s how it works: It turns out that the first line of the CRA requires any federal agency promulgating a rule to submit a “report” on it to the House and Senate. The 60-day clock starts either when the rule is published or when Congress receives the report—whichever comes later.
“There was always intended to be consequences if agencies didn’t deliver these reports,” Mr. Gaziano tells me. “And while some Obama agencies may have been better at sending reports, others, through incompetence or spite, likely didn’t.” Bottom line: There are rules for which there are no reports. And if the Trump administration were now to submit those reports—for rules implemented long ago—Congress would be free to vote the regulations down.
After quoting another legal scholar who endorses the idea, Strassel then channels the great infomercial of my youth:
There’s more. It turns out the CRA has a expansive definition of what counts as a “rule”—and it isn’t limited to those published in the Federal Register. The CRA also applies to “guidance” that agencies issue. Think the Obama administration’s controversial guidance on transgender bathrooms in schools or on Title IX and campus sexual assault. It is highly unlikely agencies submitted reports to lawmakers on these actions.
The best part? Once Congress overrides a rule, agencies cannot reissue it in “substantially the same form” unless specifically authorized by future legislation. The CRA can keep bad regs and guidance off the books even in future Democratic administrations—a far safer approach than if the Mr. Trump simply rescinded them.
Strassel’s conclusion is essentially a call to action:
The entire point of the CRA was to help legislators rein in administrations that ignored statutes and the will of Congress. Few White House occupants ever showed more contempt for the law and lawmakers than Mr. Obama. Republicans if anything should take pride in using a duly passed statue to dispose of his wayward regulatory regime. It’d be a fitting and just end to Mr. Obama’s abuse of authority—and one of the better investments of time this Congress could ever make.
The initial response to the column has been enthusiastic and positive. I’ve been fielding some very encouraging calls today from Senators and Representatives who want to make the most of this option. When my phone stops ringing, I’m going to follow up with a short article explaining why the CRA allows Congress to consider and overrule any regulation, guidance document, or any other rule that was not previously reported to Congress. This is our way to help make America freer again.