Not everything that can be ordered with a pen and a phone can necessarily be undone with a pen and a phone, especially when it comes to regulations. That’s why Barack Obama figured that part of his legacy would be safe. Unfortunately for him, he thought wrong.
A little-used piece of legislation enacted under the Republican congresses of the 1990s is set to undo wide swaths of Barack Obama’s legacy of executive actions, including regulations on corporate taxes, carbon emissions and overtime pay.
The Congressional Review Act, passed in 1996, was an obscure part of Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America.” It allows for a systematic review of almost any executive order or agency regulation.
According to the Boston Globe, the Congressional Review Act has been invoked only once, in a 2001 dispute over an ergonomic workplace regulation signed in the final days of the Clinton administration. It’s been used so sparingly because if the regulation in question is partisan in nature, both houses of Congress and the executive branch need to be controlled by the same party to be useful. Without a presidential signature or two-thirds of both houses overriding the veto, it cannot be invoked successfully.
Lo and behold, both houses of Congress and the presidency are in the hands of the same party — and that means legislators are ready to do some hardcore legacy unmaking.
“We’ve gone through a period where unelected bureaucrats have arrogated a level of dictatorial power that can ruin lives, close companies, and totally disrupt local governments with no recourse,” Gingrich, a vocal Trump supporter, told the Globe. “And to reassert the elected officials is, I think, a good thing.”
“We plan to robustly use the Congressional Review Act to reverse the midnight regulations of Barack Obama,” said Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., told the Globe. “His legacy lost. The American people said ‘No, we don’t want that. We want to change direction.’”
According to The Hill, the law only allows for a 60-day review period, which would mean that only last-minute regulations that Obama signed into effect would normally be under review. However, the Globe points out that the rules are byzantine enough that affected regulations could go all the way back to May.
So, sorry President Obama. It seems like at least part of your legacy will be wiped out — if not by Trump’s pen and phone, then by an act of Congress.
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