“Study: Hundreds of rules passed by Obama administration are technically illegal”
That’s the bad news. The good news is, there’s not a damn thing we can do about it! So let’s keep this party going, bitches!
Over the past 21 / 2 years, the Obama administration has published hundreds of rules — on how wheelchairs should be stowed aboard U.S. aircraft, how foreign trade zones should be regulated, how voting assistance should be provided for U.S. citizens overseas and so on.
There’s a problem, however: Technically speaking, these and about 1,800 other regulations shouldn’t be in effect, because they weren’t reported to Congress as required. Yet there is little that lawmakers or the courts can do about it.
The situation illustrates the obscure, byzantine process used to create federal regulations — and how easily it can go awry.
“It’s pretty apparent that the system is broken,” said Curtis Copeland, a retired Congressional Research Service staffer who discovered the issue. “It would seem this is one area where congressional Republicans and Democrats could get together and say: ‘This is crazy. We can fix this.’?”
Under a 1996 statute, most federal rules are supposed to be reported to the House and Senate in paper form and to the Government Accountability Office electronically. But since the start of 2012, that hasn’t happened for many of the regulations put out by the Obama administration, either because of bureaucratic oversight or because they were considered too minor to be reported.
Failing to report many of the rules is a “technical violation” of the statute, “and the law says they can’t take effect,” according to Robert Cramer, the GAO’s managing associate general counsel.
But there’s another catch: Congress also barred such rules from judicial review. Two federal appeals courts and two district courts have upheld this principle even when the regulation in question was not submitted to Congress as required. Since Congress cannot pass a resolution of disapproval for a rule until it receives it, this means neither lawmakers nor the courts can step in and demand that agencies submit the required paperwork.
The 1996 law at the center of this mess is the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which added requirements for reporting most administrative rules to Congress. The idea — stemming from the Republican Party’s “Contract With America” — was that lawmakers would have a chance to overturn any pending regulations they didn’t like before they took effect.
But Congress has only set aside one rule in the 18 years since, and bureaucrats and some lawmakers say the law has evolved into a major hassle. In addition to copies of each rule, agencies are supposed to provide a “concise general statement relating to the rule” and the rule’s effective date, all to be distributed to relevant committees. It’s also not entirely clear which rules need to be reported.
In 2009, the House parliamentarian complained that the law had more than doubled the number of committee referrals it had to send out. “This flow of paper poses a significant increment of workload for a range of individuals,” according to a House Judiciary Committee report from that year.
“It’s called the ‘Messenger Relief Act’ because it provided so much business to couriers,” said Jeff Lubbers, a professor at American University’s Washington College of Law.
Well, we wouldn’t to burden people with work. The Constitution would hate that idea! After all, it’s nothing if not a document begging for its own streamlining and deconstruction!
Most of the missing rules are minor. But 43 have been deemed “significant” by the Office of Management and Budget, and six of those count as major. Three rules published in early 2013 carried out the Pentagon’s sexual-assault prevention and response program; one was estimated to cost nearly $15 billion to implement.
The only measure overturned since the law was passed was an ergonomics rule that the Labor Department adopted just before former president Bill Clinton left office.
“This is a make-work statute,” said Columbia Law School professor Peter L. Strauss, an administrative and regulatory law specialist. “It creates volumes of paperwork for Congress and the GAO that sit on the floor.”
Former senator Don Nickles (R-Okla.), one of the law’s original sponsors, said the statute helps lawmakers hold hearings and use other tactics to influence regulations before they take effect. Major rules are not supposed to go into force until 60 days after they are reported to Congress or published in the Federal Register, whichever is later.
When informed about the hundreds of missing rules, Nickles — who now heads his own consulting and lobbying firm — said: “It sounds like they’re breaking the law.”
Yeah. As if that’s even a thing.
You throwbacks. You just don’t understand how DC works, do you?
Answer: any which way it can. And if that means churning out rules that aren’t subject to congressional oversight — and so aren’t subject to any kind of check, including a check on the Congresspeople who represent us who can be judged by how they deal with such regulations — that’s all the better for Leviathan.
Leviathan don’t care. Leviathan don’t give a shit.