WASHINGTON — Congressional Republicans are poised to act quickly next year to repeal tens of billions of dollars in environmental regulations and other federal rules issued by the Obama administration during its final seven months in power.
As soon as Donald Trump won the presidential election last week, GOP lawmakers began scrambling to research the approximately 180 regulations that have been finalized since mid-May and may be eligible for repeal under a rarely used law called the Congressional Review Act. Republicans can undo any of those regulations they don't like if they act fast after Trump is sworn into office Jan. 20.
"I'm sure there will be a dirty dozen," said Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., when asked how many regulations he expects to be targeted. Issa has a bill before the House this week that would allow the new Congress to repeal multiple regulations at once rather than having to vote on them one at a time.
Among the likely targets: a rule from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from commercial trucks and buses and a rule from the Labor Department to raise the salary threshold for workers eligible for overtime pay from $455 a week to $913 a week.
"It all depends on how aggressive Republicans want to be," said Sam Batkins, director of regulatory policy at American Action Forum, a non-profit think-tank that describes itself as center-right. "The law they're using is a pretty blunt instrument."
It also depends on how soon Congress adjourns its "lame duck" session, which began Monday. The new Congress, which will convene Jan. 3, will be able to count back 60 days from the final legislative day of the current Congress to find regulations eligible to be repealed.
Congress has taken so much time off for elections and political conventions this year that the House has been in session less than 50 days from May 17 through Tuesday. Lawmakers are scheduled to work, at most, 14 more days this year before they adjourn.
The earlier Congress adjourns, the further back in time lawmakers can go to target the 2016 rules they don't like. Some regulations finalized in May, including the overtime pay rule, may be left intact if Congress waits all the way until its scheduled end-date of Dec. 16 to adjourn.
"Every day we're in session, we're burning one of those days," Issa said.
The new Congress will have 45 legislative days to repeal any eligible rule it doesn't like.
The Congressional Review Act of 1996, which has been used successfully only once in 20 years, speeds up the repeal process by requiring only a simple majority to undo regulations. That means Senate Democrats can't mount a filibuster to stop Republicans from acting. Trump is likely to sign legislation that would repeal Obama administration rules. Obama, not surprisingly, vetoed four resolutions passed by Congress to overturn his regulations.
Batkins, like Issa, predicted that the new Congress will leave the majority of the regulations intact. Batkins has compiled a list of 180 regulations that took effect from May 17 through last week.
"I don't anticipate the Republicans going after dozens of regulations," he said. "Some of the rules are designed to fix something on a plane, for example. That's not the kind of thing they want to repeal. There are roughly 20 to 30 regulations that might be considered controversial."
The House is scheduled to vote this week on Issa's Midnight Rules Relief Act, which would amend the Congressional Review Act to allow Congress to repeal multiple regulations at once. Issa said his bill, approved by the House Judiciary Committee in September, would help rein in costly last-minute regulations by presidents of either party.
"Regulations shouldn't be done this way," Issa said. "Do it open, do it right, and do it early."
The White House issued a veto threat on Issa's bill Monday, calling it unnecessary. Issa said he will offer the legislation again early next year if Obama vetoes it.