Liberals Once Loved The Congressional Review Act
Despite their recent opposition to the concept, liberals used to love the idea of a new president and Congress wiping out the last-minute regulations of the old president.
“The hilarious incompetence here is that the White House either forgot or they just didn’t know about something called the Congressional Review Act,” MSNBC host Rachel Maddow said in November 2008 after the election. Maddow was, of course, talking about the George W. Bush White House in the final months before Barack Obama became the nation’s 44th president.
“[S]ome of the regulations the Bush team thought they were slipping through, it turns out they can easily be reversed,” Maddow noted. “Their efforts to impose their will on the country and the next administration may be thwarted.”
The night before, another MSNBC host – Keith Olbermann – asked Georgetown University constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley to explain the virtues of the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
“[W]hat is this law that the Obama people think that they have found? What … exactly is this promise of blessed relief?” Olbermann asked.
“Well, this is the Congressional Review Act of 1996,” replied Turley, which “is designed to prevent presidents in the final hours of their administration of creating this dead hand control.”
So what is the CRA? It’s a 1996 law that gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to overturn regulations issued by the executive branch. When regulations are issued near the end of a two-year session of Congress, the clock restarts when the House and Senate reconvene in January, giving lawmakers another 60 legislative days to take action. The CRA doesn’t allow for Senate filibusters and other delay tactics, which makes it an effective tool for lawmakers to put a check on federal departments and agencies. At the same time, a CRA disapproval motion must be signed by the president to succeed.
In effect, the CRA gives members of Congress and the president another way to oversee and correct the actions of unelected bureaucrats. Until recently, the law had only been used once successfully in 20 years. But now, the law is becoming a central plank in the Republican regulatory reform agenda in Congress.
More specifically, lawmakers hope the CRA will help them repeal a flurry of major regulations impacting the West that the Obama administration rushed out the door before leaving office in January. While some Democrats have joined Republicans in trying to strike down these “midnight” regulations, most Democrats have opposed these CRA motions of disapproval.
It’s a curious historical twist, because the CRA was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in the lead up to his successful reelection campaign. But more importantly, the biggest champion of the CRA in 1996 was Nevada Senator Harry Reid, a Democrat who rose to become Senate majority leader and the Obama administration’s most important ally on Capitol Hill.
Shortly after the CRA was signed, Reid co-authored a report on the legislation that makes for interesting reading today.
“As more and more of Congress’ legislative functions have been delegated to federal regulatory agencies, many have complained that Congress has effectively abdicated its constitutional role as the national legislature in allowing federal agencies so much latitude in implementing and interpreting congressional enactments,” the report stated. “In many cases this criticism is well founded.”
The report also noted that when different versions of the CRA received floor votes in the Senate, it was approved 100-0. In other words, every Democrat in the Senate at the time voted for it.
So has Reid backed off his support for the CRA or tried to bury his role in creating this landmark law in the two decades since it passed?
Far from it.
Reid did not run for reelection last year, and in his farewell speech on the Senate floor, he listed the CRA as one of his top legislative accomplishments right alongside Obamacare.
According to RealClearPolitics, Reid even joked how much liberals enjoyed the idea of the CRA when a Republican president was leaving office, but felt very differently when Democratic regulations were threatened with repeal.
The CRA “was legislation that I did, and it was great when we had Republican presidents,” Reid said. “Not so great when we had Democratic presidents. But it was fair.”
So the next time you hear someone railing against Congress for trying to overturn the Obama administration’s last-minute regulations, remember this: Rachel Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Bill Clinton, Harry Reid and many others on the left thought the CRA was a good idea.
In fact, Harry Reid still says the CRA is a good idea – and a fair one, too. With that in mind, it will be interesting to see if Democrats soften their opposition to CRA motions in the coming weeks. They have lots of fights ahead of them, but fighting CRA motions may not be the right one.
Simon Lomax is the managing editor of Western Wire. A former wire-service and trade-press reporter, he now works in Denver as an adviser to pro-energy and free market groups.