GOP finds its secret weapon

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Republicans believe they have identified a potent weapon in their fight against President Obama’s regulatory agenda.

GOP lawmakers plan to employ the seldom-used Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives lawmakers the power to formally disapprove of major agency rules, as they seek to ratchet up their attacks on federal red tape.

{mosads}”It hasn’t been possible to use this in a divided Congress,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told The Hill, “but now that it is, we certainly are interested in reviewing regulations to make sure they meet with congressional intent.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) began threatening to use the CRA to stop regulations last year, after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule aimed at cutting carbon emissions from new power plants.

“That’s why I, along with about 40 Republican co-sponsors … intend to file a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to ensure a vote to stop this devastating rule,” he said at the time.

While Obama can and likely will veto any efforts to undo regulations through the CRA, the threats carry more weight now that Republicans control both chambers of Congress.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman James Inhofe (Okla.) and other Republicans are zeroing in on the EPA, believing they can use the Review Act against rules for new and existing power plants, water, ozone and coal ash.

“There is widespread agreement among Republicans and the business community that the EPA under the Obama administration is out of control and it’s taking things to the extreme,” a senior aide to Inhofe said.

“The CRA has been used sparingly in the past and some folks may say it’s too aggressive, but frankly the aggressive nature of this administration’s regulations demands an aggressive response.”

Lawmakers have only struck down one rule under the Congressional Review Act in 43 attempts, according to the Government Accountability Office. In 2001, Republicans repealed the Clinton administration’s controversial ergonomics rule aimed at curbing workplace injuries.

The window for action under the CRA is short; the law can only be used against a regulation in the first 60 days after it is enacted. But the disapproval resolutions cannot be filibustered, which means Republicans would only need a simple majority in both chambers to pass them.

It is unlikely, however, that Republicans would be able to muster enough Democratic votes to override an Obama veto of any measure striking down major regulations.

“It’s an exercise in futility for Republicans, because the way the CRA works is Congress has to pass it, but then it has to be signed into law by the president, and it’s very unlikely the president would sign off on this,” said James Goodwin, senior policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for Progressive Reform.

“These are his rules, he made them a priority, and he made them a priority for good reason,” he added.

But Republicans believe that forcing Obama to stand behind his “job-killing” regulations will sour voters on his message and turn the political tides in their favor.

“This shows that Congress is really legislating, and it’s President Obama and some of his allies in Congress that are getting in the way,” an aide to Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) told The Hill.

“It’s going to demonstrate to the American people that it’s President Obama standing in the way of our good ideas, and not the other way around.”

Assuming all Republicans are behind a CRA measure, Republicans would need 13 Democrats in the Senate and 45 Democrats in the House to override an Obama veto.

GOP aides admit that would be a “tough hill to climb,” but said they hope to recruit centrist Democrats from red states to join them in tackling some of the more controversial rules.

Inhofe’s staff says the EPA’s rules for water and ozone are ripe for the picking, because of widespread public opposition.

The EPA says the Waters of the U.S. rule is intended to clarify the agency’s authority over smaller bodies of water like ponds and streams, but farmers oppose it as an unconstitutional “land grab.”

The ozone rule, meanwhile, would limit air pollution around the country, but faces staunch resistance from business groups that say it could be the most expensive regulation in history.

If nothing else, using the Congressional Review Act will put Democrats on record as to whether they stand with the president on certain policies.

“The desire of Democrats to distance themselves from the president is only beginning to grow,” the senior Inhofe aide said. “One of the best ways they can distance themselves is by voting to overturn bad regulations.” 

Tags Bob Goodlatte Jim Inhofe Mitch McConnell Orrin Hatch

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