Monday, November 17, 2008

Congress has fast-track power to kill Bush rules President-elect Barack Obama will have limited authority to overturn federal regulations approved in the waning months of the Bush administration. But a little-used power offers the new Democratic Congress an early test of how aggressively lawmakers might unravel such rules pushed through by Republicans. Under a special fast-track authority, Congress could repeal current rules from as far back as May. Many are related to the environment and health. Aside from congressional action, such changes involve a laborious rule-making process that can take years. The Congressional Review Act of 1996, used just once in the past 12 years, could become a sweeping tool for Democrats against late regulations from the Bush presidency. Environmental activists are compiling lists of regulations they believe Congress should target, including ones covering water pollution at huge farms, pollution control equipment at older power plants and hazardous waste restrictions. The 1996 law gives Congress expedited authority to shortcut the legislative process. Once a regulation is repealed, Congress would have to approve any substantially similar new rule. The law allows 60 congressional working days to repeal a finalized regulation once it comes to Congress for review. If the House or Senate session ends before a full 60-day review period, a new 60-day clock starts 15 working days after the new Congress begins. The review period is elongated because Congress takes off August and members adjourn for long holidays or other breaks. That means that depending on when the lawmakers wrap up this year, regulations going back to May could be subject to expedited repeal by the new Congress that will convene in January, said Curtis Copeland, an expert at the Congressional Research Service who has studied the issue....The thing to remember from this is that there is not a single regulation on the books that Congress is not responsible for. They delegated this authority to the executive branch and the 1996 law was an attempt to take some of the authority back, but the gutless wonders never use it. The R's could have used this on the Clinton roadless rule, but didn't. They were too busy protecting their power and positions, which they have now deservedly lost.

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