The Republicans' hollow threat: EPA and the Congressional Review Act
Among the options congressional Republicans are said to be mulling in their war on the Environmental Protection Agency is the Congressional Review Act. Newly far-right Energy Committee Chair Fred Upton (R-Mich.) has been talking smack about it.
Can it work? Almost certainly not.
The CRA is a law Newt Gingrich got passed back in 1996. It says that within 60 days of a regulation being passed by the executive branch, a majority in both houses of Congress can vote to nullify it. (It can’t be filibustered, so you only need a majority in the Senate, not the usual 60.) It’s only been used once, when Bush got rid of some Clinton ergonomics rules just as he was entering office.
Why is CRA the dog that never barks? Because once the Resolution of Disapproval passes Congress it goes to the president, who presumably will veto it immediately. Why wouldn’t he? They are, after all, his regulations.
Add to that the inconvenient fact that most of the key EPA rules on climate pollution are already more than 60 days old and this adds up to a real nothingburger. Even if Republicans are able to muster 51 votes in the Senate, it would be entirely symbolic, pure politics. And it’s not clear if there are 51 votes. Lots of Democrats support Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s (D-W.Va.) proposal for a two-year delay of EPA rules — there may be 60 votes for that at some point — but are more leery about permanently crippling the EPA, which despite Beltway conventional wisdom is quite popular with the public.
The right knows the CRA can’t actually block EPA. (Witness Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s [R-Alaska] humiliating failure.) They’re just trying to bully EPA into backing down. It’s a purely political play. “The threat of the Congressional Review Act is likely to have some moderating impact on what EPA does on some of these things,” says industry spokesflack Jeff Holmstead.
Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who now runs the environment subcommittee in Appropriations, sums up the right’s talking points:
The EPA is the scariest agency in the federal government, an agency run amok. Its bloated budget has allowed it to drastically expand its regulatory authority in a way that is hurting our economy and pushing an unwelcomed government further into the lives of Idahoans.
As a substantive matter, the “run amok” attack is absurd. As I wrote the other day, EPA is responding to court mandate in the most cautious way available to it. It is implementing the Clean Air Act, per law, not “expanding its regulatory authority.”
But it’s crucial to understand: this is post-truth politics. It doesn’t much matter what EPA actually does. The attacks will be maximal regardless. That’s how Mitt Romney’s health-care reform plan, George Bush I’s pollutio- control framework, and the biggest middle-class tax cut in history became jack-booted granny-killing socialism. Whatever EPA does, it will face these attacks.
It follows that delaying or watering down EPA’s rulemakings will have no political effect. This political battle cannot be won with policy concessions. Rather than compromising preemptively in the inevitably vain hope of bipartisanship, the administration might consider fighting this fight. Thus far the right’s full-scale assault is being met by … nothing. There’s no one out on the airwaves, in the media, at press conferences, vigorously refuting the attacks on EPA. If they have a plan, it’s nowhere in evidence.
Perhaps the Obama administration could study this video: