GOP introduces "Midnight Rules" bill to counter Obama regs ... again

Congressional pushback against excessive regulation is long overdue. That’s not the fault of Republicans, who have repeatedly pushed for laws that give greater legislative oversight since taking control of the House in 2011, only to be thwarted by Barack Obama and Democrats. Fresh off of another round of executive actions, Kerry Picket reports that Darrell Issa has reintroduced legislation that will allow Congress to block lame-duck regulation sprees in toto:

Republicans have put forward a plan to stop Obama administration’s last minute regulations Tuesday. These “midnight regulations” published after the 2016 presidential election could cost the American taxpayer over $44 billion.

California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa re-introduced legislation Tuesday that would allow Congress to overturn executive branch regulations finalized in the last 60 legislative days of an outgoing presidential administration.

The bill amends the Congressional Review Act, which would allow Congress to recoup the ability to essentially curb numerous regulations rushed through the regulatory process in the last days of an outgoing administration at one time.

As USA Today noted on Monday, the Midnight Rules Act is not new, and neither is another leash Republicans plan to put on the regulatory process. Now that Obama is leaving the White House, the path should be clear this time:

The House is expected to take up two bills — the Midnight Rules Act and the REINS Act (which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) — that passed on largely party-line votes in the 114th, 113th and 112th congressional sessions, but died in the Senate. The REINS Act would require that before any new major regulation could take effect, the House and Senate would have to pass a resolution of approval. The Midnight Rules Act would let Congress invalidate rules in bulk that passed in the final year of a presidential term. …

Regulations are adopted by the executive branch to implement laws passed by Congress and signed by the president. Congress already has the power to repeal laws by passing a new bill and getting the president to sign it. And under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress can pass a resolution of disapproval to block a rule if it acts within 60 days of notification from an agency.

The new legislation would further expand congressional power by preventing an administration from implementing rules without another vote. Under the REINS act, a proposed regulation would be deemed rejected if Congress was in session for 70 days and took no action. The bill allows for a major rule to take effect for a single 90-day period if the president determined it was necessary because of an imminent threat to health or safety or other emergency.

This also does something else: it eliminates the need for a presidential signature to repeal regulations. The CRA allows Congress to void regulation but still requires White House approval to execute. The MRA and REINS reverses the process by requiring Congressional approval on major regulations, the lack of which would void them, with a single 90-day exception for emergency situations. If a president can’t get approval from Congress, then “executive actions” will have little bite. This restores lawmaking authority where it belongs, in the legislative branch; regulation should be narrowly focused on enforcement of statutes passed by the representatives of the people and the states.

The first question will be whether Donald Trump will sign off on this. After all, that will curtail his own authority, at least theoretically, although he seems more inclined to get rid of regulation than to expand it significantly. Under normal circumstances, a president could be inclined to engage in executive-branch turf protection and shoot this down, but Trump’s far more of an outsider to the political system and probably isn’t terribly concerned about executive authority in this context. (Wait until we get to executive privilege, though.)

The bigger obstacle will be the Senate, where Democrats could filibuster it. That’s not a sure bet either, though, because Democrats are trying to find ways to show their base that they’re fighting Trump at every turn. If they want to hamstring Trump from Congress, the only realistic method of doing that is to reduce the range of actions the executive branch can take. Passing this will make it a lot easier for Democrats to hang Trump’s executive actions on Republicans as a whole if they have to pass bills approving them — and those votes will also give Democrats more opportunities to filibuster.

The two bills represent a clear opportunity for Republicans to deliver on promises of reform and swamp-draining. As I write in my column for The Week, it’s now time to stand and deliver on those promises:

Ten years ago, voters stripped Republicans of their majorities in both the House and Senate. Two years later, Republicans lost the White House. Ever since that Democratic ascendance of 2006 and 2008, Republicans have been scrabbling to regain power in Washington. They vowed to American voters that this time, a return to the GOP’s single-party governance would result in reform and real prosperity, not the international misadventures and domestic issues of the Bush years.

In 2016, Republicans finally got their wish. And in 2017, it’s time to deliver. …

Until now, Republicans had a handy excuse for their inability to deliver: Barack Obama. But they overpromised in 2014 and touched off a populist revolt on the right that resulted in the nomination and election of Donald Trump. Overpromising and underdelivering has real-world consequences for political parties, even when the lack of success has rational explanations. Underdelivering in single-party governance could have catastrophic consequences for the GOP. The next several weeks will show whether they understand that.