It took a matter of hours after the 115th Congress was sworn in on January 3 for bills to be introduced in the House that would significantly impact executive branch regulations and rulemaking.
The Midnight Rules Relief Act of 2017 (H.R. 21) and the Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act (H.R. 26) both passed the House (along nearly party-line votes) less than 56 hours after the start of the session. The Midnight Rules Relief Act would allow Congress to repeal, in a single vote, any rule finalized in the last 60 legislative days of an outgoing president’s administration. For the Obama administration, this means regulations finalized since mid-June could be revoked; some rules concluded during this timeframe include restrictions on Arctic drilling, standards for seafood importation that protect whales and dolphins, guidelines on fisheries management, and management of oil and gas rights in Alaskan refuges. The REINS Act would require major rules (regulations with an annual economic impact over $100 million) be approved by the House and Senate within 70 legislative days of their presentation to Congress.
While proponents of these regulatory reform bills feel they will keep executive overreach from hobbling innovation and economic growth while providing accountability and transparency, critics have raised multiple alarms. First, regulations are formed through a process heavily reliant on science and independent of politics. Allowing this science-based regulation’s promulgation to be at the political whim of Congress undercuts the critical role of science. Others point out the potential impacts to public health, since regulations governing necessities such as clean air and water could be removed or never put in place. While The White House previously stated that President Obama would veto last Congress’ version of the Midnight Rules Relief Act and the REINS Act, it remains to be seen what President-elect Trump would do should these bills reach his desk.