Congress Fails to Use Review Power to Reform Regs

Published July 1, 1997

It may not be an 800-pound gorilla, but Congress last year passed legislation, later signed into law by President Clinton, that, if properly used, may turn out to be a 350-pound gorilla–something overzealous regulators will no longer be able to ignore.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) offers Congress an impressive tool to oversee federal regulatory agencies and reject rules that lawmakers find excessive or inappropriate. Specifically, the new law simplifies the process for rejecting agency actions so that “resolutions to disapprove” such actions are not easily scuttled. The CRA requires Federal agencies to submit every rule they issue to each chamber of Congress and to the General Accounting Office (GAO) before the rule can go into effect. Congress than has 60 “legislative” days in which to issue a “resolution to disapprove” if it sees fit. The term “legislative” days is significant; under the law’s wording, 60 “legislative” days could last as long as six calendar months. In effect, Congress now has the power to regulate the regulators.

Needless to say, federal agencies, used to throwing their weight around, don’t like the Congressional Review Act. Already, several–including the Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, and Health and Human Services–have demonstrated their unwillingness to comply with the new law.

Unless Congress takes some specific steps, argues John Shanahan of the Virginia-based Alexis de Tocqueville Institution, the law could become a “paper tiger.” Shanahan proposes the creation of a joint House-Senate Committee to coordinate and oversee the Congressional review process on a systematic basis. If Congressional review is done correctly, he writes, “this law will not only derail bad regulations, but will motivate unelected regulators to become more sensitive to the concerns of those they regulate.”

PF: Call PolicyFax at 847/202-4888 for additional information on Congressional review of regulations. Request John Shanahan’s Issue Brief, “Congressional Review: Why it Exists and How to Make it Work,” published by The Alexis de Tocqueville Institution in January 1997 (#7276401, 15 pages); Murray Weidenbaum’s, “Regulatory Process Reform: From Ford to Clinton,” from the Winter 1997 issue of Regulation magazine (#7276402, 7 pages); and Shanahan’s “Regulating the Regulators: Regulatory Process Reform in the 104th Congress,” also from the Winter 1997 issue of Regulation (#7276403, 6 pages).