Republicans in Congress continue to strongly support using the Congressional Review Act—which allows the Senate to expedite an up or down vote on federal regulations—throughout the remainder of the Obama administration to vote down environmental rules they oppose. But the statute has rarely been successful. In fact, it has only nullified one regulation in its 20-year existence. This is the story of how a series of factors came together to allow for the nullification of an ergonomics standard from President Bill Clinton’s administration.
March 1996: Years before the regulation was even finalized, senators spoke openly of potentially killing it. During debate over what would become the Congressional Review Act, Sen. Don Nickles (D-Okla.) said “If the Department of Labor comes up with a final rule that is similar to the ergonomics language they have been floating, I think of a lot of us would say, `Stop that. Wait a minute.’”
Nov. 14, 2000: President Clinton’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration finalizes an ergonomics regulation meant to reduce instances of wrist pain, back problems and other injuries stemming from repetitive tasks at work. Republicans control both the Senate and the House at this point, but Clinton’s certain veto of any attempt to nullify the rule means 2/3 of both chambers would have to support such an effort.
Jan. 20, 2001: George W. Bush is sworn in as the nation’s 43rd president. Republicans now have control of both chambers of Congress and the presidency.
March 1, 2001: Sen. Nickles introduces a resolution (S.J. Res. 6) to override the regulation.
March 6, 2001: Nickles, speaking on the floor about the Congressional Review Act, says “It was written for such items as this. This is an excellent time to review this regulation and stop it.” Later, the Senate passes the resolution by a vote of 54-46.
March 7, 2001: The House votes 223-206 to nullify the regulation, sending it to Bush for his consideration. On the floor, then-Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) says, “I am also glad to see the Congress using for the first time the Congressional Review Act. It has been very comfortable for a long time to not use this act. This act was not on the books until 1996, and to say that we cannot do anything about regulation no matter what the cost, no matter what the cost to competitiveness, no matter how ill-conceived it is, no matter how unbased it is on true science, we could not do anything, has been a great excuse for the Congress to use for decades now.”
March 20, 2001: Bush signs the resolution into law. In a signing statement, he says “This resolution is a good and proper use of the [Congressional Review] Act because the different branches of our Government need to be held accountable. There needs to be a balance between and an understanding of the costs and benefits associated with Federal regulations.”
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