Pssst … can you keep a secret? Keep this under your hat: Republicans are, um, opposed to the regulatory expansion from the past eight years, and especially the lame-duck regulations from last year. At least according to Reuters’ headline writers, the GOP effort to roll back Barack Obama’s regulatory expansion over the last few months of his administration is a “stealth assault.” No, really:
Stealth assault? The expansion of the regulatory state was a major issue in the 2016 election, especially the lame-duck efforts of Obama, with Republicans from Donald Trump down to individual House Republicans pledging to roll it back. What’s more, as the Reuters story itself notes, Republicans are even working in broad daylight to fulfill this campaign pledge:
The clock began running out this week on a strategy that has provided U.S. Republicans in Congress with their only notable legislative successes this year: aggressive use of an obscure U.S. law known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
On his 75th day in power, President Donald Trump has yet to offer any major legislation or win passage of a bill he favors, but House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has notched numerous small-scale victories with his strategy.
Just how “stealthy” has this effort been? Well, Mike Pence cleverly kept it a secret by bragging about it in a meeting with allies on Tuesday:
Vice President Mike Pence told business leaders at the White House on Tuesday that Trump would sign more CRA resolutions soon and roll back an “avalanche of red tape” from the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
And press secretary Sean Spicer kept it really quiet by bragging about it in a press briefing the same day:
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday the number of [CRA] resolutions signed over two months showed Trump is “vastly different” from past presidents in rolling back regulations.
The White House itself clearly wants to keep this effort stealthy by issuing a dozen or more press releases in the last two months about CRA efforts to roll back regulation. Trump ensured that the Republicans remain in stealth mode by staging a signing ceremony last week for four CRA bills from Congress:
Thank you, everybody, for being here. I want to welcome many state and local leaders; and we’ve had them all over the White House today, and it’s a great honor — including Governor Eric Greitens of Missouri; Governor Gary Herbert of Utah; Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton of Kentucky — who are all at the White House and who are all doing something very, very important today.
I’m signing four bills under the Congressional Review Act. Before this administration only one time in our history had a President signed a bill that used the CRA to cancel a federal regulation. So we’re doing a lot of them, and they deserve to be done.
First House Joint Resolution 37 rolls back the so-called blacklisting rule. When I met with manufacturers earlier this year — and they were having a hard time, believe me — they said this blacklisting rule was one of the greatest threats to growing American business and hiring more American workers. It was a disaster they said. This rule made it too easy for trial lawyers to get rich by going after American companies and American workers who contract with the federal government — making it very difficult. You all know what I’m talking about, right?
Well, everyone except Reuters does, apparently. This headline, repeatedly republished on Twitter, provides a fairly straightforward example of editorial bias in reporting. The phrase “stealth assault” conveys both a sense of underhandedness and a sense of illegitimacy to Republican efforts, both of which are nonsense. Republicans explicitly declared their opposition to these regulations, and committed themselves to reversing them when they had the authority to do so. They have not hidden the use of the CRA for that purpose but have been promoting it as a campaign promise being met. The use of the word “assault” is even more problematic than “stealth,” for obvious reasons.
The problem isn’t just with the headline, either. While the CRA could be said to be “obscure,” Republican leadership has repeatedly cited it since gaining control of the House in 2010 and the Senate in 2014 as a measure to check executive power. The CRA provides a completely legitimate enforcement of Congressional jurisdiction on the regulatory process within the federal government under the agency law that shares such power with the executive branch within federal departments. The problem with the CRA isn’t that it’s too obscure — it’s that it’s too rarely used. If it’s “obscure” to Reuters and others, it’s because they haven’t been paying attention.
Reuters does offer one tidbit of useful information:
Last Friday was the deadline for introducing any new CRA resolutions on regulations enacted by Obama’s administration. Now Republicans must complete voting on resolutions already in the legislative pipeline by mid-May.
The CRA does have a time limit on reviewing regulations, in part a way to keep outbound presidents and parties from larding up the federal register on their way out of power. However, the Trump administration can simply pick up where the CRA leaves off by repealing regulations through the agencies themselves. That requires the use of the comment period and opens up the agencies for legal action to restore regulations once repealed, and unlike the CRA does not prevent the same regulations from being reinstated by a succeeding administration. That process isn’t an “assault” either, nor will it be stealthy in any recognizable form of the word.
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