Can the Congressional Review Act Bring the Obama Administration to Its Knees?

I was on a conference call this morning with Senator James Inhofe, who said that he will be filing a Congressional Review Act report on any major EPA regulation that is introduced before Congress either passes his bill, S. 2161, into law or the EPA starts abiding by Sec. 321(a) of the Clean Air Act. (As always, following the law is too much to expect from the Obama administration.)

Those are worthy objectives, but the call prompted me to think more generally about the Congressional Review Act, about which I was almost completely ignorant, until recently. The act was passed by the Republican Congress as part of the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996. Wikipedia summarizes the act as follows:

The law allows Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, new federal regulations issued by government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, to overrule a regulation.

It isn’t surprising that the CRA was not on my radar screen, as only one federal regulation has been invalidated under the statute since 1996. But I ran across it when writing about the Obamacare grandfather regulations, which the Obama administration predicted would cause more than one-half of all employer-sponsored group plans to become illegal. In 2010, Senate Republicans forced a vote under the CRA to invalidate those regulations so that those who liked their insurance could keep it. Every Senate Democrat voted “no,” and the rest is history.

While it has not played much of a role until now, the CRA could assume new prominence if the GOP captures the Senate in November. The Obama administration gave up on passing legislation long ago, given Republican control of the House, and instead is trying to realize its often-radical goals through agency action. If Republicans control both the House and the Senate, as many observers believe they will beginning in January, they can vote to block any major regulation proposed by a federal agency, thereby, perhaps, frustrating the administration’s principal strategy for the last two years of Obama’s reign.

There is one huge catch: joint resolutions disapproving agency action can be vetoed by the president. So the likelihood of the Republicans reversing CRA’s record of futility is nil. But that doesn’t mean that the effort won’t be worthwhile. Administrative regulations generally attract little notice, and yet they can be economically devastating. The Obama administration’s war on coal is Exhibit A. House and Senate votes under the CRA can be a means of focusing publicity on the Obama administration’s radical agenda, forcing Democrats to vote in favor of unpopular, job-killing regulations, and putting the onus on President Obama to veto resolutions that will be broadly popular with voters. Let’s hope the Republicans capture the Senate in November, and use the CRA to focus attention on the Left’s economically devastating agenda.