Kim Strassel delivers today’s good news in her Wall Street Journal column “A GOP regulatory game changer” (accessible here via Google). She introduces the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Todd Gaziano to explain the mechanics of the rarely used (and almost always unsuccessful) Congressional Review Act of 1996 to undo executive agency regulations. (The text of the Congressional Review Act is accessible here.)
As a staffer to Rep. David McIntosh at the time, Gaziano was “intimately involved” in drafting the law. According to Strassel, “No one knows the law better.” Here’s the beauty part:
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 Republicans 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.
How does it work? Kim alludes here to 5 U.S.C. § 801(a)(1)(A) and § 802(b)(2)(A) & (B). With a little help from Gaziano, she explicates the text:
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.
Let me pause here to ask Steve Hayward to tune in:
There’s more. It turns out the CRA has a[n] 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.
“If they haven’t reported it to Congress, it can now be challenged,” says Paul Larkin, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Mr. Larkin, also at Wednesday’s meeting, told me challenges could be leveled against any rule or guidance back to 1996, when the CRA was passed.
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.
It sounds too good to be true. Nevertheless, to quote Lyndon Johnson as he undertook the vast expansion of the edifice of the administrative state: “Let us begin.” Roll away the administrative stone!
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