Lawmakers Worry Obama Is Preparing Last-Minute Regulatory Blitz

Published August 27, 2015

House and Senate lawmakers are questioning Obama administration officials about whether they plan to issue a rush of “midnight regulations” during the “lame duck” period between the presidential election in November 2016 and the official start date for Obama’s successor in January 2017.

At a hearing of the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs’ Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs and Federal Management in July, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) asked Howard Shelanski, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) administrator, about the administration’s plans for last-minute regulations.

“Let me ask you a question that’s, frankly, obvious … just an obvious, easy question,” Lankford said. “What time is ‘midnight,’ when you’re talking about ‘midnight regulations’?”

‘Flood the System’

James Gattuso, a senior research fellow in regulatory policy at The Heritage Foundation, says last-minute regulations serve two main purposes.

“At the end of the term, you can just flood the system,” Gattuso said. “You’re sneaking regulations past the processes that have been set up … to ensure that they are scrutinized. I think there’s also a bit of desk-clearing going on. Everyone in government who is leaving their job wants to have all their work done and all the regulations on the way.”

Gattuso says consumers should watch out for a storm of new federal rules.

“When you have the end of a presidency, it is almost [inevitable] that every presidential term ends with a mountain of regulations being pushed over the finish line when people are not watching,” Gattuso said. “Watch out for the flood.”

‘Rein Them In’

Wayne Crews, vice president for policy and director of technology studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, says regulations are the only area of action in the capital at this point.

“The average American needs to be concerned about midnight regulations, and regulations generally, because it’s become clear that Washington, DC is not going to cut spending,” Crews said. “That leaves us with doing something about overregulation and red tape, and that means we’re in the sprint now.”

Crews says government agencies are out of control and it’s up to Congress to assert control.

“In the scheme of things, the agencies are doing what they want to do, [and] Congress needs to rein them in,” Crews said. “I think that’s really the only way to solve any of this. The agencies aren’t going to police themselves. They’re not going to do cost-benefit analyses [and] they’re not going to regulate rationally, so you really have to make sure that Congress has to vote to approve all the rules coming out.”

Amelia Hamilton ([email protected]) writes from Traverse City, Michigan.

Internet Info:

Patrick A. McLaughlin, “Empirical Tests for Midnight Regulations and Their Effect on OIRA Review Time,” Mercatus Center: