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H.R. 21: Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017

Jan 4, 2017 at 4:48 p.m. ET. On Passage of the Bill in the House.

This was a vote to pass H.R. 21 (115th) in the House.

President Obama’s administration issued a record number of regulations during the lame duck sessionafter the election. Known as “midnight rules,” these actions drew the ire of Republicans who considered them liberal executive overreach during the end of a presidency whose party had just been voted out of office. A bill passed by the House could make it much easier for Congress to overturn these regulations.

###What the bill does

The Midnight Rules Relief Act, H.R. 21 and S. 34, would allow Congress to overturn any presidential or executive branch regulation finalized within the final 60 days of an administration. In practice, of course, this for the time being means the Obama Administration. Under current law, Congress can only overturn one regulation at a time, but this bill would speed up the process and allow for potentially dozens of regulations to be overturned at once. Which regulations could be overturned? At least 145 midnight rules were enacted by the Obama Administration, at a total cost estimated by the conservative American Action Forum at $21 billion. Among the biggest rules on the chopping block includes ones expanding by millions the number of people qualifying for overtime pay, a rule for financial advisers requiring them to put their clients’ financial interests first instead of their own, and a new environmental standard for renewable fuels.

###What supporters say

Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA49) in the House and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI) in the Senate, supporters argue the bill prevents a presidential administration from pushing through an excessive number of regulations at the last minute — especially when the president’s party has just been rejected at the ballot. “Regulations impacting the economy, the environment, families, and our community should be done with great caution and transparency, not get rushed in last-minute on a President’s way out of office… The Midnight Rules Relief Act is a reasonable plan to strengthen executive branch oversight, giving Congress a better tool to ensure regulations are limited and, when necessary, approved in an open and transparent manner,” Issa said in a press release. “We have a responsibility to ensure that unaccountable, last-minute regulations don’t continue crippling our economy, crushing small business and raising costs on middle-class families.”

###What opponents say

Opponents counter that presidential regulations instituted during an administration’s waning days are just as valid as those instituted earlier. Democrats also say the regulations span a wide variety of necessary measures on issues including Wall Street, education, the environment, and more. “Bureaucrats could also be called experts, specialists, dedicated government officials. There are people who study these issues that, to be implemented, need to be fine-tuned to fit into society, sometimes to protect consumers, sometimes to protect commerce, and it takes years and years and years, often, for these regulations to take effect,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN9) said on the House floor. “Tobacco regulations, toys, protections for children, all potentially in jeopardy, as well as other regulations protecting four-legged friends.”

###Odds of passage

On only their second day in session, the House passed the bill 238–184 in early January. Four House Democrats voted in favor: Reps. Henry Cuellar (D-TX28), Josh Gottheimer (D-NJ5), Collin Peterson (D-MN7), and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ9). No House Republicans voted against. The bill had attracted 14 cosponsors, all but one a Republican. The legislation next goes to the Republican-controlled Senate, where it could face a more difficult challenge due to Democrats’ ability to filibuster. The bill has attracted five Senate cosponsors, all Republicans, and awaits a vote in the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. An earlier version of the bill passed the House in November 2016 nine days after the election, by a 240–179 vote, a marginally higher percentage than this time around. However, the Senate version never received a vote. It’s possible the same outcome could occur this time, although the Senate version has already attracted several more cosponsors than the zero it attained last time.


All Votes R D
Aye 55%
No 42%
Not Voting 3%

Passed. Simple Majority Required. Source:

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Key: R Aye D Aye D No
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Notes: The Speaker’s Vote? “Aye” or “Yea”?
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