If executive-branch agencies like the EPA and HHS are tempted to sneak some new rules into the record during the lame-duck period, House Republicans have a warning for them. A letter from all current committee chairs tell Obama administration officials that any nonsense will get punished at budget time, and high-ranking officials had better expect to spend a lot of time testifying on C-SPAN:
Newly empowered House Republicans on Tuesday laid down the gauntlet to the outgoing Obama administration: Don’t finalize any pending rules and regulations you think you can slip through before you leave office.
In a letter to hundreds of Cabinet secretaries, commissioners and other heads of federal offices and agencies signed by 22 Republican leaders, the lawmakers noted that President Obama has been generous in his use of executive orders to set policy. And they issued a threat: Ignore us and we will give your agency extra scrutiny.
“Should you ignore this counsel, please be aware that we will work with our colleagues to ensure that Congress scrutinizes your actions — and, if appropriate, overturns them …” said the one-paragraph missive signed by House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and 21 Republican committee heads. They oversee federal agencies from the Department of Veterans Affairs to the Environmental Protection Agency.
In some ways, this is a normal part of the transition process when the White House changes parties. As the Washington Post’s Lisa Rein points out, then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel issued the same warning to Congress in 2008 after Barack Obama won the election to replace George W. Bush.
This situation differs in two significant ways, however. In 2008, it was the Democratic Congress that wanted to advance the authority of the federal bureaucracy and create the opportunity for more rule-making. It’s no coincidence that the only two major initiatives addressed by Democrats in the following session of Congress after the stimulus bill were ObamaCare and Dodd-Frank — both Trojan horses for an immense expansion of bureaucratic intrusion into commerce and the lives of Americans nationwide.
Second, the Bush administration didn’t spend a lot of its time trying to expand the regulatory state towards that goal. For all the strum und drang from Democrats during the Bush years about the supposed “imperial presidency” and the “unitary executive,” Obama did far more with his “pen and phone” to expand executive supremacy in the federal government, all without a whimper from The Usual Suspects Circa 2001-9. It’s not exactly a deep secret that such an executive will do whatever he thinks he can get away with to solidify his vision before he leaves office.
It’s pointless to do it, though, especially because of the nature in which Obama and Democrats conducted that expansion. After losing the House in 2010, they’ve had to rely almost entirely on executive orders and directives. Those can be easily reversed by the next executive, and Donald Trump has already indicated that he intends to do just that. The same will be true of regulatory expansion by executive-branch agencies; their new management under Trump can simply reverse those rules, and the new Congress can (and should) act to make them moot with clearer restrictions on their authority, too. Anything that gets “finalized” in the next 60 days will get unfinalized in a big hurry after that.
Live by the EO, die by the EO. Obama and Democrats built that house on sand, and it’s going to get wiped away by the first big wave that hit it.