H.R. 3136 (104th): Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996

This was a vote to pass H.R. 3136 (104th) in the House.

Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996. 3/28/1996--Passed House amended.

  • Title I: Social Security Earnings Limitation Amendments
  • Title II: Small Business Regulatory Fairness
    • Subtitle A: Regulatory Compliance Simplification
    • Subtitle B: Regulatory Enforcement Reforms
    • Subtitle C: Equal Access to Justice Act Amendments
    • Subtitle D: Regulatory Flexibility Act Amendments
    • Subtitle E: Congressional Review
  • Title III: Public Debt Limit

Title II: Small Business Regulatory Fairness - Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996 - Subtitle E: Congressional Review

A law allowing telecom and Internet companies to sell your browsing data and history to third parties. A law allowing American oil and gas companies to hide payments they make to foreign countries. A law permitting states to withdraw funding from Planned Parenthood.

13 laws have been enacted in 2017 passed thanks to another law signed 21 years earlier, which had virtually never been been used before.

What is it?

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress and the President to more easily legislatively nullify major executive branch regulations issued during the previous 60 “legislative days” — in this case, after June of 2016. Congress could already roll back regulations, but the CRA precludes the use of the Senate filibuster for bills meeting the CRA’s requirements, lowering the effective Senate vote threshold from 60 to 51.

The CRA makes the most sense to use when the president’s party changes and the president’s party has a majority in both the Senate and House, but not a filibuster-proof Senate majority. If they had a filibuster-proof majority, the Senate would just pass a bill to reverse a regulation without the CRA. Republicans currently hold a 52–48 Senate majority and a House majority as well, so because the presidency changed from Democrat to Republican, this Congress has nullified 13 Obama-era regulations using the CRA.

None of those rules went into effect because the CRA was used to reverse them shortly before implementation. So what these CRA votes actually did was preserve the status quo, albeit one that was about to be imminently changed.

A brief history

The provision — tucked near the back of the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996 — was hardly ever used, in fact only once in the subsequent two decades after passage. That one time was when the Republican Congress of 2001 and Republican President George W. Bush overturned a 2000 order by President Bill Clinton’s Labor Department requiring companies to track employees’ musculoskeletal and repetitive motion injuries.

Subsequent attempts were few, and those few were all unsuccessful. The Republican-led Congress and White House of 2001 didn’t use the CRA to overturn any other left-leaning Clinton regulations, even though there were others they could have reversed. The Democratic-led Congress and White House of 2009, with Barack Obama as President, didn’t use it at all to overturn a single Bush regulation of 2008. The Republican Congress of 2016–17 passed five CRA repeals that were all vetoed by Obama.

The Republican Congress of 2017, however, is a different story.

What’s been overturned?

13 different Obama-era regulations have been nullified by this Congress and signed by President Trump. These constitute many of legislative accomplishments in the first 100 days of the Trump Administration, a period otherwise falling short of what many GOP leaders hoped.

Among the five biggest of the overturned regulations means:

Others nullified provisions include ones that would have restricted hunting of animals on Alaskan wildlife refuges, required companies signing federal contracts to disclose information about labor violations, mandated ways that education districts rate their schools, curtailed debris from mining, and changed the way that the Bureau of Land Management manages its millions of acres to consider national interests more than local interests.

None of these regulations had yet gone into effect, since there is a period of at least several months between finalization and implementation. For example, the Obama Administration’s regulations would have prevented telecom companies from selling your personal data without consent, required oil companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments, and set more requirements for states use federal Title X Planned Parenthood funding.

On Wednesday, the Senate failed 49–51 to repeal an Obama rule regulating methane produced during petroleum or oil drilling. This marked the first CRA vote of 2017 to fail in Congress. The rule had already gone into effect on January 17, three days before Trump took office.

What supporters say

Supporters argue that the CRA is a legislatively valid measure to get rid of would-be burdensome regulations instituted by a president already out the door, especially when the American public just voted for a president of the opposite party.

“We inherited — this administration did — the biggest regulatory burden, we believe, of any President in American history,” White House Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short said in a press briefing. “The previous administration authored more than 600 major regulations according to the Federal Register, with an estimated cost to the economy of about $740 billion… We believe this is having a dramatic impact in pulling back the regulatory burden, so far, that cost or that benefit to the economy is over $10 billion.”

What opponents say

Opponents argue the CRA is too blunt of an instrument to overturn regulations that are often perceived as beneficial for such issues as workers’ rights, the environment, and public health. The public often supports the initial regulations, the one preventing telecom companies from selling private data being a particularly prominent example. To that end, President Trump — hardly one to shy away from the public — has only held one public signing ceremony for a law using the CRA to overturn an Obama regulation.

However, it’s worth noting that the CRA laws passed this year actually only took down a fraction of orders they could have. Potentially more than 180 Obama regulations met the qualifications for reversal under the CRA.

In March, GovTrack Insider analyzed the Midnight Rules Relief Act, which would allow for dozens of such rules to be nullified by Congress at one time instead of one-by-one like the Congressional Review Act allows. However, that bill has only passed the House and has not yet received a Senate vote.

What’s the future of the CRA?

Congress had until its 60th legislative day — in this case lasting until early May — to utilize the CRA for any Obama-era regulations instituted during the final eight months of his presidency. Any other regulations could still be overturned, but not using the CRA, which allows for a lower vote threshold.

But now that the power of the CRA has been used in real life, instead of remaining almost entirely a theoretical problem as it had for more than two decades, Democrats are awakened to what they now perceive as its destructive capability. Every time it has been used has been by a Republican Congress overturning regulations of a Democratic president, so it’s clear the GOP has no plans to scrap or alter the CRA.

Democrats voted 120–67 in favor of the bill containing the CRA upon its original 1996 introduction, though the bill contained many other provisions as well.

The George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center maintains a live list of CRA votes, both successful and unsuccessful.


Congress
104th Congress
Date
Mar 28, 1996
Chamber
House
Number
#102
Question:
On Passage of the Bill in the House
Result:
Passed

What you can do

Key: R Aye D Aye R No D No
Seat position based on our ideology score.
Totals     Republican     Democrat     Independent
  Aye 328
 
 
 
76%
201 127 0
  No 91
 
 
 
21%
30 60 1
Not Voting 12
 
 
 
3%
4 8 0
Required: Simple Majority source: house.gov

Vote Details

Notes: The Speaker’s Vote? “Aye” or “Yea”?
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