You would think that politicians, once in power, would relish the opportunity to wield it. Yet Congress has increasingly abdicated its basic responsibility to make law.
Instead, it delegates “rule making” responsibility to administrative agencies — part of the executive branch. The rules these agencies come up with often have nothing to do with the intent of the law, and overreach into the lives of private citizens with no accountability.
Against this anti-democratic process, the Congressional Review Act was signed into law in 1996 by then-President Bill Clinton. It requires administrative agencies to submit rule changes to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Congress doesn’t have to vote, and they frequently don’t, but do they have to be given the choice.
Sometimes, agencies have failed to submit rule changes or tried to circumvent the CRA because they find the requirements to be vague. Now Democrats are even calling for the repeal of the CRA.
Congressional laziness is turning regulators into lawmakers, and giving the executive branch far more power than the Founders ever imagined. Frank Buckley calls the presidency an “elective monarchy.” Philip Hamburger says that the power given to a runaway administrative state has morphed into the new “royal prerogative.” I’ve covered the overreach of the administrative state nearly a dozen times on my show, including the “midnight regulations” passed into law by President Obama during the last week of his presidency.
Since 2017, Congress has begun to renew its constitutional vocation as the legislative branch, and exercise its authority under the Congressional Review Act to strike down questionable rule changes.
Jonathan Wood, an attorney for the Pacific Legal Foundation, has been leading the charge in the courts to hold administrative agencies accountable. He recently won a victory on behalf of an Idaho ranch that was threatened by a controversial rule, which the Bureau of Land Management had not submitted to Congress for review.
The sweeping rule would have changed the status of 70 million acres of federal lands to protect the greater sage grouse — a fascinating bird by all measures, but not an endangered species. This change would have threatened the livelihood of ranchers and cost billions to the economy.
But lest anyone criticize Wood for having it in for the poor Grouse, he has also written a report on how we could improve the Endangered Species Act in The Road to Recovery. Basically, Wood says we should be rewarding property owners who keep rare species alive on their property, not punishing them with regulations and command-and-control style preservation efforts that don’t get results.
Fortunately, the court smacked down the administrative agency and required them to go through Congress to have the rule approved or rejected. One question still remains: will Congress do its job and vote on the rule, or will they continue abdicate power once again?
Tune in to find out:
- Pacific Legal Foundation
- (@Jon_C_Wood) | Twitter
- Congressional Review Act: Finally Some Accountability in Washington | National Review by Jonathan Wood and Todd Gaziano, June 29, 2017