If you been following the news recently, you’d probably think that Congress’s job has shifted from making laws to repealing them. While I assure you that Congress does still pass laws, there’s been a lot of press regarding the repealing of big-title legislation. This was most notably seen with the multiple attempted repeals of the Affordable Care Act and the start of the debate regarding Dodd Frank. However, it isn’t just health care that has been on the chopping block. In fact, earlier this year fourteen Obama-Era regulations were overturned using a rather obscure law passed in 1996 called the Congressional Review Act.
Never heard of the Congressional Review Act? I don’t blame you. This little-known act has only been used once in its 20-year history to overturn ergonomics regulation set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration during the Clinton administration. Since then, this law hasn’t been used by Congress to overturn regulations and rules until now.
In brief, the Congressional Review Act establishes a set of fast track procedures that allow Congress to overturn rules and regulations issued by federal agencies from the previous administration within a certain time frame once the new president takes office.
So wait, how come Congress couldn’t easily repeal Obamacare? While we use the words, “laws,” “regulations,” and “rules” interchangeably, they’re actually all distinct terms. “Laws” describes a piece of legislation that is created and voted on by Congress or a legislative body. Laws are pretty general and lay out guidelines for how things ought to be. For example, you’d never find a law that states the exact speed limit on your block, but a law might create a department that oversees transportation and has the authority to set rules and regulations regarding that. As alluded to, regulations and rules are set by federal agencies and set the specifics of what is legal and what isn’t. The EPA was founded in 1970 by a law passed by Congress, that same law didn’t specify how many parts per million of arsenic in water is illegal. Something like that would be a regulation.
You may be thinking that fourteen regulations aren’t a lot, especially when regulations are just small components of our legal society. However, what is concerning is the content of these rules, as well as the little press they received this past spring. There are two notable rules aimed at protecting Americans that were overturned this spring, some of which might make your head turn.
First, the Department of the Interior’s stream protection rule which essentially prevented the dumping of coal rubble into stream valleys during mountaintop removal of coal. This rule was aimed to protect populations that often depended on stream water as drinking water. In fact, in West Virginia, known for its coal industry, over 40 percent of its waterways are polluted beyond basic water safety standards.
In addition, Congress also rolled back the FCC’s broadband-privacy rule which required internet service providers (ISPs) to get permission from their subscribers before selling their information and data to third parties. The overturning of this rule allows ISPs like Verizon and Comcast to legally collect your browsing data and sell it to companies that can then use the data to target your preferences in the hopes of selling you products. It should be noted that this is different than tracking cookies. This rule was put in place to protect consumers’ privacy and it’s not tough to see who wins in this rollback.
So what? ISPs can sell your info and you probably shouldn’t go for a swim in a stream in West Virginia. Plus it’s only 14 rules they overturned. Well, that’s just what Congress has done. Remember that Congress only has the power to overturn these rules for a limited duration of time according to the Congressional Review Act. On the other hand, President Trump and his Administration can still withdraw pending regulations, effectively removing them. As of late July, the Trump Administration stated that it would pull or suspend 860 pending regulations; now that’s a sizeable number.
We’ve been taught that much regulation harms economic growth by adding extra costs to day-to-day operations. This logically makes sense; if all of a sudden you have to pay for additional services to meet standards, your costs will go up. Notably, earlier this year President Trump stated that he wanted to cut the number of federal regulations by 75 percent in order to foster a more business-friendly environment to stimulate job and economic growth. President Trump articulated that he wanted to cut regulation that was unnecessary and redundant. I mean, who wouldn’t?
These 860 rules and regulations govern everything from consumer safety standards regarding the flammability of your mattress and workplace safety regulations for construction workers to ensure that workers don’t get hit by vehicles on site. Making sure our mattresses don’t go up in flames and ensuring that our construction workers don’t end up splattered on the front of a Caterpillar dump truck doesn’t seem unnecessary.
I, like most people, love the liberating feeling of cleaning out my room and making it spotless. But when I clean, I throw out the beat-up pair of Vans and that Luke Skywalker figure I was sure would go up in value, not my dresser, door, or bed, unless of course, that bed is likely to ignite.
Congressional Review Act. Accessed August 7, 2017. https://www.senate.gov/CRSpubs/316e2dc1-fc69-43cc-979a-dfc24d784c08.pdf.
“CRA RESOLUTIONS.” Rules at Risk. Accessed August 7, 2017. http://rulesatrisk.org/resolutions/.
Eilperin, Juliet, and Damian Paletta. “Trump Administration Cancels Hundreds of Obama-Era Regulations.” Washington Post, July 20, 2017, sec. Business. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/trump-administration-cancels-hundreds-of-obama-era-regulations/2017/07/20/55f501cc-6d68-11e7-96ab-5f38140b38cc_story.html.
“Episode 748: Undoing Obama.” NPR.org. Accessed August 7, 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/money/2017/01/18/510456884/episode-748-undoing-obama.
“President Trump To Cut Regulations By ‘75 Percent’ — How Real Is That? : NPR.” Accessed August 7, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2017/01/24/511341779/president-trump-to-cut-regulations-by-75-percent-how-real-is-that.
“Regulations Create Jobs, Too.” Bloomberg.com, February 9, 2012. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2012-02-09/regulations-create-jobs-too.
“Republicans Are Using An Obscure Law To Repeal Some Obama-Era Regulations.” NPR.org. Accessed August 1, 2017. http://www.npr.org/2017/04/09/523064408/republicans-are-using-an-obscure-law-to-repeal-some-obama-era-regulations.
“Senate Republican Policy Committee.” Accessed August 1, 2017. https://www.rpc.senate.gov/policy-papers/restoring-the-peoples-voice-in-regulations.
“Senate Votes to Kill Worker Safety Rule Aimed at Federal Contractors - The Washington Post.” Accessed August 1, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/republicans-poised-to-roll-back-worker-safety-regulations/2017/03/06/87a6c266-fd27-11e6-8f41-ea6ed597e4ca_story.html?utm_term=.bb6181b29a2c.
Steinhauer, Jennifer. “Senate Lets States Defund Clinics That Perform Abortions.” The New York Times, March 30, 2017, sec. Politics. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/30/us/politics/pence-congress-family-planning-money.html.
“The House Just Voted to Wipe Away the FCC’s Landmark Internet Privacy Protections - The Washington Post.” Accessed August 7, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-switch/wp/2017/03/28/the-house-just-voted-to-wipe-out-the-fccs-landmark-internet-privacy-protections/?utm_term=.e0939859302d.
US EPA, OA. “The Basics of the Regulatory Process.” Overviews and Factsheets. US EPA, February 22, 2013. https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/basics-regulatory-process.
“West Virginia Senate Votes to Revise Water Pollution Limits | West Virginia News | US News.” Accessed August 7, 2017. https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/west-virginia/articles/2017-03-28/west-virginia-senate-votes-to-revise-water-pollution-limits.