GOP Will Use the Congressional Review Act to Strike Down Public Protections

by | Feb 2, 2017 | News

On January 4, 2017 House Republicans announced their intention to repeal a series of Obama administration regulations, including the Affordable Care Act (ACA), environmental rules, and labor rules. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that reforming federal regulations and rewriting the tax code are top priorities.

At the end of January, House Republicans began what is expected to be a two-week marathon to introduce legislation to begin voiding dozens of new US regulations to fulfill their promise to undo President Barack Obama’s legacy. Republicans will block or roll back scores of regulations using a little-known piece of legislation called the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

What is the Congressional Review Act?

The CRA was authored by a conservative Indiana House member and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, and allows Congress to void a single regulation if they act within 60 legislative days of action. Disapproval resolutions can pass on simple majorities, giving Senate Democrats no power to block votes with filibusters.

According to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), between 1996 and August 2011, 72 Congressional Review Act resolutions of disapproval were introduced. Of those, only three passed both chambers of Congress, and only one was enacted – a Department of Labor ergonomics regulation during the Clinton administration.

Since 2011, when the Republicans were back in control of the House, Congress adopted a number of resolutions for disapproval, but all were vetoed by Obama. But now that the Republicans have control of the House and Senate and the White House, it will be easy to get a resolution of disapproval enacted.

The stars are aligned for congressional Republicans to push for action against what they view as the most onerous Obama regulations. A CRS memo released in November concluded that 220 regulations submitted to Congress after May 30, 2016, may be subject to disapproval under the CRA.

What’s At Risk?

On the chopping block are dozens of new public protections that the outgoing Obama administration finalized since June on energy, the environment, transportation, banking, finance, education, and media ownership. This week Republicans seek to kill a rule intended to protect the nation’s streams and forests from the impact of coal mining, and a regulation curbing methane leaks on public lands. McCarthy says these two rules “limit our energy production.”

In addition, Congress will take aim at new requirements for employers to report their workers’ gender, race and ethnicity that are intended to help root out pay discrimination. Republicans may also target an education reform bill that some state officials have complained erodes local decision-making.

One problem for the Republicans is that the CRA only allows them to roll back one Obama regulation at a time, a legislative piecemeal approach rather than rolling dozens of targeted regulations into one resolution and passing it. In an effort to address that problem, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced the “Midnight Rules Relief Act” that will allow Congress to address multiple regulations at one time. The bill has passed in the House and is now in the Senate as Senate Bill 34.

What Can I Do?

Please contact your state senators and district representatives and tell them to vote against CRA challenges. To learn more about this topic and the rules under attack, please visit Rules at Risk — a coalition formed to oppose use of the Congressional Review Act to strike down our public protections. We also need stories of real people being protected by these rules. This includes people who have been defrauded by for-profit schools, Wells Fargo, and more. 

Check Out Our Sources:

Together We Will (TWW) co-founder Azadeh Ghafari believes in leveling the political playing field for forward-thinking candidates. She seeks to build a powerful movement dedicated to electing progressives into office. She currently leads the TWW Political Strategy Advisory Board. Azadeh earned a dual bachelor’s degree in history and political science and a minor in economics from UCLA. She went on to earn her dual master’s degree in public policy and social work from USC. Her areas of interest are based around policy analysis within higher education. She is pursuing a Ph.D in the field of education. She currently works as a nonprofit development director and political fundraising consultant.

Vicki Summers is a freelance writer, editor, and feminist teacher. She lives in Cincinnati with her spouse and two clever and energetic daughters. She has a BA in English from the Ohio State University and an MA in Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati. Vicki has taught Gender Studies courses and worked in nonprofit settings, including workforce development and after-school programming for urban youth.