Historically, Senators and Congressmen have had few legislative means at their disposal to overturn burdensome or counterproductive rules and regulations. That situation changed in 1996, but few elected officials have taken advantage of their new authority.
In March 1996, Congress enacted the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Flexibility Act (SBREFA). One of its key provisions, the Congressional Review Act (CRA), allows Congress to review new regulations and eliminate those it deems too burdensome or inconsistent with Congressional intent.
Before a new rule or regulation becomes effective, the CRA requires agencies to report it to Congress. Congress is given sixty legislative days to review new rules and is empowered by the CRA to strike down inappropriate or ill-considered ones with a simple, expedited Resolution of Disapproval. The President can veto such a resolution, but Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds vote.
To date, Congress has made little use of its powerful new oversight tool. Since the CRA became effective, only a handful of resolutions to disapprove a rule have been introduced, and not one has been passed. Regulatory agencies, however, have continued to issue new rules and regulations at an unchecked pace. In December 1997 alone, federal agencies printed more than 5,000 pages of new and proposed rules in the Federal Register.
Not content to see the CRA wither on the vine, the chairmen of three House subcommittees are encouraging their colleagues to familiarize themselves with it. Representatives David McIntosh (R-Indiana), Sue Kelly (R-New York), and George Gekas (R-Pennsylvania) have written two letters this year to their GOP House colleagues, pointing out that a Resolution of Disapproval gives committee chairmen “a powerful trump card against agencies that abuse their delegated powers.”
Saying the CRA “can help put Congress back in charge of the regulatory process,” the three lawmakers announced a series of briefings aimed at informing members and their personal staffs about the value of the Act for addressing grievances from constituents. Their efforts have caught the eye of House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas), who has urged his colleagues to attend the briefings “and learn how to use this important and underutilized Congressional tool.”
“Along with the means, the CRA gives Congress the responsibility to reject inappropriate rules and regulations. If Congress fails to do so, agencies may say that Congress has tacitly approved their actions,” Armey wrote. (emphasis in the original)