Not only are Congressional Republicans unlikely to take action on the multiple policy proposals that President Obama is expected to announce in tonight’s State of the Union Address, they are looking at a relatively unused law that could allow them, in very specific instances, to block the president’s enforcement of laws that are already on the books.
Sen. Jim Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who now chairs the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee said in an interview with home-state paper The Edmond Sun that when the Environmental Protection Agency comes out with new regulations, he plans to use the Congressional Review Act to try to invalidate them.
The CRA was originally passed as part of the Contract with America that Republicans pushed through Congress after they took over both Houses during the Clinton administration. It allows Congress to examine rules written by executive branch agencies to determine whether they reflect legislative intent.
CRA challenges are not subject to the filibuster in the Senate, so Democrats would be unable to block a vote on such a challenge. Sen. Inhofe told the Sun that he already has 30 co-sponsors prepared to sign on to a bill challenging future EPA rulemakings. Similar legislation would likely be even easier to get through the House of Representatives.
Of course, the biggest problem facing the GOP in the use of the CRA is that, even passed by majorities in both Houses of Congress, moves such as Inhofe’s plan to block EPA regulations would have to be signed into law by the President, who is highly unlikely to undermine his own administration by signing a law deeming its interpretation of the law invalid.
That won’t stop Congressional Republicans from at least making a statement, though. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told The Hill on Monday that the CRA has been underused in recent years and that the GOP is almost certainly going to dust it off in the current legislative session.
Only one rulemaking has been successfully overturned using it – the Clinton administration’s wildly unpopular attempt to set workplace ergonomic standards, which Republicans quickly invalidated in 2001, in the early months of the George W. Bush administration.
The reason for the tactic’s low success rate is that the only circumstances in which Congress would both need to use it and be able to make it work are those that applied in 2001. A Republican-controlled Congress sent the bill to a Republican White House in order to overturn a rule promulgated by a Democratic predecessor.
Assuming at least a basic level of partisanship in Congress, and absent real executive branch malfeasance, a bill passed under the CRA can only make it to the president’s desk when one party controls both Houses of Congress. However, if the same party controls the White House, there would likely be no rules so offensive that members of Congress would find the CRA necessary. And if a member of the opposite party is in the White House, the bill would almost certainly not be signed into law. So unless the party controlling Congress also has veto-proof majorities, and bill introduced under the CRA will die somewhere on the way to becoming law.
The latter case applies to the final two years of the Obama administration, meaning that any efforts to use the CRA will amount to little more than political messaging by Republicans. But with all eyes on the 2016 elections, that should hardly be surprising.
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