Congress Moves to Cancel Obama-Era Regulations Under the Congressional Review Act

Since the Congressional Review Act became law in 1996 through the 114th Congress, more than 120 resolutions of disapproval have been introduced to cancel regulations promulgated by federal agencies. The Congressional Review Act gives Congress 60 legislative days after a federal agency submits a rule for review. Between the 104th Congress and the 114th Congress, only one resolution of disapproval canceling a rule passed by both chambers of Congress and was signed into law.

The only resolution of disapproval that canceled a rule was S.J.Res. 6. The resolution, signed into law by President George W. Bush in March 2001, canceled the Department of Labor’s ergonomics rule. The rule would have cost employers $4.5 billion annually.

Other resolutions of disapproval received action in the past 21 years. Eight resolutions of disapproval have received votes in the House and 18 have received votes in the Senate. Six have received votes in both chambers and been presented to the president for consideration. President Barack Obama has vetoed each of the five resolutions of disapproval that landed on his desk.

The 115th Congress has breathed new life into the Congressional Review Act. This week, the House passed five resolutions of disapproval against rules promulgated and finalized by in the final days of the Obama administration. FreedomWorks key voted in favor of four of these resolutions.

  • H.J.Res. 36 – Bureau of Land Management’s Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule: With annual compliance costs between $114 million and $279 million, the so-called “venting and flaring” rule purports to reduce waste from “reduce the waste of natural gas from mineral leases administered” by the Bureau of Land Management. In reality, the purpose of the rule is to discourage oil and gas production on land overseen by the agency. The Bureau of Land Management estimates annual compliance costs between $114 million and $279 million. The resolution passed the House by a vote of 221 to 191.

  • H.J.Res. 37 – Department of Defense, the General Services Administration, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Federal Acquisition Regulation: This regulation requires federal contractors to disclose decisions on the reporting of violations of federal labor laws and creates paycheck transparency protections for employees of federal contractors. The rule is expected to cost employers $458.3 million in the first year, $413.7 million in the second year, and between $398.5 million and $400 million annually thereafter. The resolution passed the House by a vote of 236 to 187.

  • H.J.Res. 38 – Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule: With an annual estimated cost of $81 million, according to the Department of the Interior’s Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement, the Stream Protection Rule is another blow to the coal industry, which was a favorite target of the Obama administration. The National Mining Association estimates that rule will lead to billions of dollars in lost revenues to state and local governments, as well as the loss of between 113,000 and 280,000 jobs. The resolution passed the House by a vote of 228 to 194.

  • H.J.Res. 41 – Securities and Exchange Commission’s Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers: Promulgated under the authority of the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, or Dodd-Frank, this rule requires resource extraction issuers to include in annual reports the payment of any entity controlled by the regulated business to foreign governments or the United States government "for the purpose of the commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals." The Securities and Exchange Commission projects initial compliance costs between $239 million and $700 million and annual compliance costs between $96 million and $591 million. The resolution passed the House by a vote of 235 to 187.

While Senate Democrats have slowed the pace of the confirmations of President Donald Trump’s cabinet nominees, though they haven’t successfully stopped any of the nominees, the lull created in the Senate calendar has allowed for action on resolutions of disapproval passed by the House.

On Thursday, the Senate took action on H.J.Res. 38, passing the resolution to cancel the Department of the Interior’s Stream Protection Rule by a vote of 54 to 41. Today, the Senate passed H.J.Res. 41, which cancels the Securities and Exchange Commission’s Disclosure of Payments by Resource Extraction Issuers rule, by a vote of 52 to 47. The upper chamber will likely move on remaining House-passed resolutions of disapproval either next week or the following week.

On Tuesday, the White House released a statement of administration policy on the resolutions stating that President Trump will sign them into law. He will become the second president in history to cancel a rule promulgated by a federal agency through the Congressional Review Act.