Opinion

Congress can stop Obama’s out-of-control regulators

Elizabeth Letchworth Former U.S. Senate Secretary

According to a George Washington University study, the Obama administration issued 16,200 regulations in 2009. In comparison, just 28,400 regulations were issued in the period from April 1996 through December 2000. If this doesn’t get your jaw dropping, a 57% increase in the staffing and the federal funds devoted to developing and enforcing federal regulations should have you shaking your head. Also, in order to get an accurate picture of regulators run amok, you need to add to these 16,200 regulations the thousands of regulations included in the financial reform bill, the food safety bill and the health care bill, all passed in 2010. Finally, a full picture of regulators on steroids can be plainly seen if you also add the final weeks in December 2010, when Obama’s regulators continued to issue rules and vote on regulations that had been defeated or vigorously opposed in Congress.

Over the Christmas weekend, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid services issued a new regulation that provides payments to doctors who conduct end-of-life counseling with their patients, the re-birth of the so-called “death panels.” Readers may remember that these provisions were taken out of the Obamacare bill during the negotiations with Congress in the early spring of 2010. Members of Congress objected because many believed end-of-life care should be left to families and not forced on us by our federal government. The president agreed to drop the “death panels” and thus the legislative language was removed before passage of the bill. When President Obama skirted the Senate confirmation process by recess-appointing the head of CMS in July 2010, senators cried foul again and said the appointee, Administrator Donald Berwick, would resurrect death panels.

During Christmas week, on Dec. 21, 2010, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) gave itself the power to establish rules regulating Internet service providers. The federal government will now safeguard our use of the Internet, protecting us from Internet providers that have never shown any indication that they will restrict our Internet access. This regulation has been dubbed “net neutrality.”

These are just two of the latest moves by Obama’s regulators and need to be added to the massive list of other rules and regulations that are being written on a weekly basis by our federal agencies.

Congress can and should start using the Congressional Review Act to stop this overreach by the Obama administration and wean regulators off the steroids they seem to be on. Using the Congressional Review Act will do just that. The CRA was designed back in 1996 to combat Clinton administration regulators, after they created a number of expensive regulations dealing with workplace ergonomics. The business community went nuts over the regulations, which prompted Congress to create a process by which regulations can be made null and void, even after they are already in place.

The Congressional Review Act works like this. First, all agencies must report to Congress a concise statement describing the rule and the effective date of the new regulation. Members of both chambers of Congress have 60 days to introduce a joint resolution disapproving of the rule. The joint resolution is then sent to the appropriate committee, where timetables for debate and consideration take over. Full Senate debate is required at a certain point and can’t be blocked or ignored by the Senate majority leader. Debate in the Senate is limited to 10 hours, with no ability to alter the text. A simple majority vote is all that is required to pass the disapproval resolution in both the House and Senate. If both chambers pass it, the joint resolution is sent to the president for his approval or veto. This is where the rubber meets the road!

President Obama promised to remove “death panels” from Obamacare when it was being debated in Congress. Will the president keep his promise and sign the disapproval resolution, thereby once again making “death panels” a thing of the past? Or will POTUS veto the resolution, and prove to the American people that his word or bond means nothing when negotiating with Congress?

We should remember the few rules and timetables involved in producing a resolution to disapprove of an agency regulation under the Congressional Review Act, because I have the feeling that the use of the Congressional Review Act will become commonplace in the 112th Congress. Stay tuned.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate Secretary for the Majority and Minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of GradeGov.com.