New CPR Project - CRA by the Numbers: The Congressional Review Act Assault on Our Safeguards

by James Goodwin

If Donald Trump has learned anything over the last 100 days, it's that unlike in golf, you can't call a Mulligan on the beginning of your presidency, no matter how much it might improve your score. 

These last few months have been long on scandals and failure (Russian probes, the spectacular implosion of Trumpcare, etc.) and short on policy accomplishments, particularly in the legislative realm. This sad state of affairs has left Trump's PR team looking to inject some positive spin into the 100-days news narrative any way it can, and the Congressional Review Act (CRA) seems to be their go-to vehicle for doing just that. 

Using the long-dormant law's expedited procedures, and almost entirely along party lines, conservative leaders in Congress have pushed through a raft of CRA "resolutions of disapproval" that target a wide range of Obama administration-era regulations for repeal. For his part, Trump has been more than happy to sign every one that reaches his desk, with plenty more likely to come. Trump's Director of Legislative Affairs Marc Short has been reduced to selling all of the CRA resolutions that Trump has signed so far as "an important story that has not been told."

OK. Let's tell it. 

It is distressingly easy to lose track of all the damage that Trump and conservatives in Congress are doing to the public interest through the CRA. (Even White House spokesman Sean Spicer can't keep the numbers straight). That's why CPR is launching a new project – CRA by the Numbers: The Congressional Review Act Assault on Our Safeguards – that pulls together key statistics and quantitative analysis that help to reveal what is really at stake – namely, the reckless destruction of critical protective regulations that individually and collectively would have made us healthier, safer, and more financially secure had they remained in place. 

These data also reveal the financial ties that exist between the industries that directly benefit from the regulatory rollbacks and the members of Congress who have sponsored the related CRA resolutions of disapproval, creating the appearance – if not the reality – that lawmakers are using these resolutions to carry out favors for the corporate interests that have made generous contributions to their campaign coffers. 

Using the most up-to-date data, some of the more disturbing findings include the following: 

  • 13. The number of CRA resolutions of disapproval that Trump has signed so far. 
  • 46 percent. Nearly half of all the legislation that Trump has signed (13 of 28) during the first 100 days of his administration has been CRA resolutions. 
  • 3 years. On average, the 13 rules targeted for elimination through the CRA were in the works for roughly three years each. 
  • 38 days. For the 13 rules that have been fully repealed using the CRA's procedures, the process from beginning to end took only 38 days to complete on average.
  • 49 and 6. These numbers represent the narrow margins, on average, by which each of the CRA resolutions have passed the House and Senate, respectively, so far. Just a few changed votes – particularly in the Senate – and many of these CRA resolutions may not have passed. 
  • 245 and 65. In contrast, these numbers represent the wide margins, on average, by which each of the main authorizing statutes for the rules that have been targeted by CRA resolutions passed the House and the Senate, respectively. In fact, nearly every one of the authorizing statutes enjoyed broad bipartisan support at the time of their passage and continue to be popular with the public. 
  • 156. This is the number of additional jobs that would have been created on net per year between 2020 and 2040 by one of the rules that have been eliminated through a CRA resolution of disapproval: the Department of the Interior's rule to better protect mountain streams from damage associated with mountaintop removal mining. Not only would this rule have created jobs, it would have also delivered significant environmental benefit to a region of the country that has been ecologically devastated by mountaintop removal mining. 
  • $465,950. This is the amount of campaign contributions that Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) – the lead sponsor of the Senate's version of the CRA resolution to repeal the Security and Exchange Commission's rule to discourage government corruption related to resource extraction activities in foreign countries – received from the oil and gas industry between 2011 and 2016. The oil and gas industry will benefit directly from the rule's repeal and in fact lobbied heavily against its development. 

In the weeks to come, my colleagues at CPR and I will regularly update the CRA by the Numbers: The Congressional Review Act Assault on Our Safeguards webpage to include new data and other materials as additional resolutions pass Congress and are signed by the president. 

One small silver lining is that the "window" that the CRA creates for launching new attacks on Obama-era regulations closed a few weeks ago, which means that the universe of potential CRA victims cannot grow any larger. However, the separate "window" that the CRA creates for using its expedited procedures to complete attacks that have already been initiated remains open for another couple of weeks. That means the several dozen Obama-era regulations already lined up for the chopping block remain very much in danger of elimination, should congressional leadership choose to prioritize those additional CRA resolutions for floor votes. 

Continued vigilance remains essential. We invite you to visit the CRA by the Numbers: The Congressional Review Act Assault on Our Safeguards webpage often for updates on the fate of any protective safeguards that you care about and to share it widely with anyone who cares about the misuse of a dangerous law like the CRA to deliver favors to politically well-connected corporate interests.



© 2016 The Center for Progressive Reform