Republicans in Washington are planning to make good on promises to roll back federal regulations on everything from mining pollution to consumer protections for credit card holders.
To do it, they are using an obscure legislative tactic that’s been successful only once in history – a tactic has some legal scholars worried.
How it works
To kill these rules, lawmakers are passing joint resolutions allowed under a law called the Congressional Review Act. The Act allows lawmakers to block regulations that have only recently been finalized. In terms of this new Congress, it means lawmakers have about 60 legislative days to review any rule that came out after mid-June of last year.
The law was passed in the 1990s as part of the “Republican Revolution” and signed into law by Bill Clinton. Sidney Shapiro, a law professor at Wake Forest University, says the idea was to give Congress more oversight over rules created by federal agencies.
He says the law was meant to add “an important degree of democratic accountability,” but what it created was “an introduction of politics into the regulatory process.”
One reason is that the Act requires the president to sign off if a regulation is going to be axed. No president is going to kill a rule put in place by his or her own people, so the Act is only effective when a new party takes control of the White House.
That’s one of the reasons it has been used successfully only once before the latest Congress was sworn in.
“Both houses have passed two [rollbacks] already and the House has passed several more,” says Tom McGarity, a professor of law at UT-Austin.
Among other things, these joint resolutions would roll back consumer protections for pre-paid credit cards, end rules to reduce methane pollution and block regulations on the safe handling of dangerous chemicals.
And there’s one more reason opponents of these rules have to be worried.