How the coming Republican Congress could cut regulations lickety-split

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For the better part of eight years, Republicans have tried to stop the Obama administration from issuing new regulations. They have not had much success. But this may well change in January, when President-elect Donald Trump arrives in the Oval Office.

Congress’ primary regulation-whacking tool is the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a bipartisan statute enacted 20 years ago and signed by then-President Bill Clinton. The CRA established a process for Congress to vote to nullify a regulation from taking effect.

To date, just one regulation has been struck down using the CRA. Why? For one, it requires both House and Senate leadership to schedule CRA resolutions for a vote, which takes away time that could be spent on other legislative matters. For another, a president needs to sign the joint disapproval resolution after both chambers of Congress pass it, and presidents tend not to want to kill rules issued by their agencies. Obama himself has vetoed four CRA bills in the past two years.

Trump’s arrival changes that. Now Republicans can schedule votes in both chambers with the expectation that they will win every vote and their work will meet a willing presidential pen. The American Action Forum’s Dan Goldbeck and Sam Batkins observe:

Utilizing the CRA, Congress and President Trump could potentially repeal at least 48 major regulations with, at a minimum, total regulatory costs of more than $42 billion and 53 million hours of paperwork.

Now, which regulations might get nixed is far from clear. Do the new Head Start Program Performance Standards impose more costs than benefits? Would deleting the Department of Labor’s rule expanding the number of workers who must be paid overtime be cheered or jeered by voters? (The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, by the way, has produced a list of major rules subject to the CRA.)

President-elect Trump has promised to reduce regulation, and Republicans pride themselves on being anti-red tape. But shooting down every major regulation issued since late May of this year would be foolish. Which means that—between now and Jan. 20, 2017—Republicans are going to need to delve into the policy thicket and think a great deal about how they can use the CRA wisely. Unified government is rare these days, and Republicans would be wise not to squander the rare opportunity to lighten the regulatory burden.


Image by Jason Salmon

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