GOP flips Obama-era regulations, claim a boon to economy
Final score: Republicans 14, Barack Obama's last-minute regulations, one.
Congressional Republicans anxious to show voters they can get something done are hailing their reversal of more than a dozen Obama-era regulations on guns, the internet and the environment.
Over a few months, lawmakers used an obscure legislative rule to ram through changes that will have far-reaching implications for the coal industry, broadband customers, hunters and women seeking health care at Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
The deadline for scuttling the rules that Democrat Obama imposed during his final months in office was last Thursday. The 1996 Congressional Review Act had given Republicans the power to make the changes with a simple majority, within a set time.
While the rest of Washington focused on the furor over President Donald Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey, Republicans were celebrating their effort to reverse the rules, arguing that it would boost the economy and make it easier for businesses to operate.
"I am almost speechless when I think about the success," said Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.
Senators pointed out that Congress had only once before used the legislative tools stemming from the Congressional Review Act to quash a regulation — until this year. In all, the GOP was able to reverse 14 regulations that had or will get Trump's signature.
Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader in the Senate, argued that overturning rules passed at the end of the Obama administration hardly constituted an agenda.
"The fact that they are bragging about these highlights how little else they have accomplished legislatively," Schumer said.
Republicans have a long way to go in their efforts to repeal and replace the health care law, cut taxes and boost infrastructure spending, all Trump priorities. Still, the GOP made clear soon after election victories in November that one of the first orders of business would be to go after Obama administration rules.
The effort has had strong backing from business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the National Rifle Association and prominent anti-abortion groups — all key constituencies that generally back Republican candidates. The Chamber endorsed eight of the 14 repeal resolutions that Congress passed. One still awaits the president's signature before it can become law.
Republicans reversed Obama rules that enhanced protections for waterways near coal mines, required contractors to disclose violation of 14 federal labor laws for the previous three years when bidding on contracts and imposed tight restrictions on what broadband companies such as Verizon, AT&T and Comcast could do with their customers' personal data.
Neil Bradley, a senior vice president at the Chamber, said that when it comes to slow economic growth, it's difficult to say, "This regulation is the culprit, but collectively, that's what happens."
"Together, they affected a pretty broad base of the business community," Bradley said.
Democrats overwhelmingly voted against most of the regulatory repeals. Republicans generally supported them, with Vice President Mike Pence casting the tie-breaking vote to allow states to deny federal family planning money to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers. That reversed a rule Obama issued in his last weeks in office.
While many of the actions were designed to help businesses, others addressed social issues, including the repeal of a regulation designed to keep guns out of the hands of certain mentally disabled people. The NRA as well as advocacy groups for the disabled and the ACLU weighed in. They said it was discriminatory for the Social Security Administration to forward the names of certain beneficiaries to the instant background check system based on a mental disability and having a third party manage their benefits.
Democrats and environmentalists scored one victory last week.
Senate Republicans failed to overturn a rule that would have forced energy companies to capture more of the methane that's burned off or "flared" at drilling sites. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he considered the rule onerous but undoing it would have prevented the Bureau of Land Management from issuing a similar rule in the future.
McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Sen. Susan Collins of Maine joined Democrats on the vote.
GOP leaders opted not to bring a couple dozen other repeal resolutions up for a vote, including one that would have blocked a rule designed to protect funds on prepaid debit cards in case of fraud and unauthorized use.
Still, the 14 victories gave Republicans a chance to crow.
"In just a few short months, we have turned a significant corner from how things operated under the Obama administration," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Instead of going around Congress to push through regulations, the president is working with us to ease the burden."