Barack Obama has been stripped of the power to pass any new laws or impose new policies, as the Midnight Rule Relief Act passed on Thursday.
The bill, passed by a 240-179 majority, amends the Congressional Review Act to overturn in a single vote any regulations Obama attempts to put through in his final days in office.
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Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) urged his colleagues on the floor Thursday morning to pass the legislation and tell the American people that lawmakers heard them on Election Day loud and clear.
“The American people have said no to the continuance of the Obama administration’s policies,” he said.
“This bill guarantees that Congress can prevent any and all last-minute defiance of the people’s will by midnight regulations that stubbornly seem to entrench the last pieces of the administration’s bipartisan agenda.”
House Republicans are doing everything in their power to keep the Obama administration from enacting any new rules in its final days.
Earlier in the week, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) warned the federal agencies in a letter not to finalize any pending rules or regulations from now to the inauguration. Those that are, he assured, will be scrutinized and — if appropriate — overturned.
While the bill targets rules finalized in the lame-duck period between Election Day and President-elect Donald Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) argues its reach is much further.
Despite the bill’s colorful title, he said the legislation allows Congress to overturn rules finalized as far back as May.
Johnson cited pro-regulatory groups like Public Citizen in disputing Republican claims that midnight regulations are rushed through at the end of an administration in haste. Quoting a recent report, he said rules finalized in the last three months of an administration take 3.6 years on average to complete.
“This is a solution to non-existent and undocumented problem,” he said, adding that once a rule is invalidated, an agency cannot adopt a similar rule without Congressional consent.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) accused House Republicans of trying once again to undermine President Obama.
“This is en bloc destruction of regulations that may save lives,” she said. “This is to say, ‘In your eye, Mr. President.’ ”
The bill’s author, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), rebutted that claim.
“The Congress lady would have you believe it’s an attack on our president. It’s not,” he said. “It’s a law that would allow Congress to reassert the authority that’s constitutionally and inherently always ours.”
Democrats offered several amendments that were ultimately rejected, including exceptions for rules that are issued in response to a matter of national security, address the harmful effects of climate change or have benefits that exceed their costs.
The administration has already threatened a veto if the bill were to make it to the president’s desk.
In a statement, the Executive Office of the President said the bill is unnecessary because the Congressional Review Act already allows for Congress to disapprove rules on a case-by-case basis.
“In addition, the bill would expand the scope of rules subject to the CRA such that by the time a vote on a resolution occurs, some of the rules may have been in effect for over a year,” the executive office said.
“By doing so, H.R. 5982 would create tremendous regulatory uncertainty, potentially impose additional costs on businesses, and represent a step backwards for applying sound regulatory principles to protect public health, safety, the environment, and other critical aspects of society.”