- - Thursday, January 5, 2017


Congress, like a proper martini, should be shaken, not stirred. Democrats and Republicans alike are getting an early demonstration of the effects of a good shaking. Shaking can move mountains, and even timid congressmen.

The House, moving with new ambition and unaccustomed energy, passed legislation Wednesday that would kill dozens of recently enacted rules, the first skirmish in the battle to strip unreasonable regulations imposed in the final hours of the Obama administration.

This is the second time the Republican-controlled House has tried to block President Obama’s version of “midnight madness.” The first time, in November, was doomed by Mr. Obama’s veto pen. But the president’s pen runs out of ink in 14 days’ time, and there will be a new president in town, armed with a different pen.

Only two days into the first session of the 115th Congress, the House adopted the bill by a vote of 238 to 184, sending it on to the Senate. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress has the authority to review and dispose of regulations for a certain period of time after they are issued. A simple majority of both chambers can reverse a rule or regulation, so Democrats in the Senate can’t block a roll-back with a filibuster.

“Because outgoing administrations are no longer accountable to the voters, they are much more prone to issue ‘midnight regulations’ that fly in the face of the electoral mandate the voters just gave the new, incoming administration,” says Rep. Robert Goodlatte of Virginia, the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “Waves of midnight rules can be very hard for Congress or a new administration to check adequately.”

The Congressional Review Act was enacted 20 years ago as part of the Republicans’ “Contract With America,” to enable Congress to reverse a regulation within 60 legislative days of publication in the Federal Register. It has been used only once. The House vote should be a harbinger of good things to come. “Congress should stop giving away their legislative authority,” says Diane Katz, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “They’re all guilty of deferring to the agencies much more than they should.”

The old way of doing things is suffering painful vibrations, and well deserved, too.

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