EDITORIAL: Toomey, GOP take U.S. forward to the past
When campaigning for his party during the 2010 midterm elections, President Barack Obama maintained that he didn’t want to turn over the keys of the economy to Republicans. Extending the automotive metaphor, he would often continue:
“You want to go forward, what do you do? You put it in ‘D.’ When you want to go backward, what do you do? You put it in ‘R.’”
The line was not without perception and not without humor (although, it was evidently without effect; Obama’s Democrats got shellacked that fall).
It is also, suddenly, not without relevance. Congressional Republicans, led by Pennsylvania's Sen. Pat Toomey, are exploring ways to put it in “R” retroactively.
According to an April 17 story in Politico: “Republicans are preparing to open a new front in their push to roll back regulations across the government, using a maneuver that could enable them to strike down decisions by federal agencies that reach back decades.”
How will they do it? By abusing something called the Congressional Review Act.
The act was established in 1996 and intended to give Congress a way to quickly and easily reverse new regulations. Within 60 congressional working days of receiving a new federal rule in writing, a resolution of disapproval can be enacted in the Senate. The fast-track measure requires only a simple majority vote. If the bill is agreed to in the House, it moves to the White House for presidential sign-off.
Because of the limited window, and the fact that new federal rules are often reasonably well vetted, the act had been used only once in its first 20 years of existence.
Then came 2017. Republican majorities in Congress found they could wield the weapon to beat back legislation passed late in outgoing President Obama’s administration. They did just that — more than a dozen times.
And guess what? They liked it. Much like their vote to rescind the filibuster to sweep Neil Gorsuch onto the Supreme Court, their craven legislative maneuvering to pass party-line tax cuts, and their (failed, thankfully) effort to ram through a secretly drafted replacement for the Affordable Care Act, the party prefers partisan rule bending to political compromise.
But what to do about that 60-day window?
Enter Toomey, who has fashioned a strategy that is one part legislative sleight of hand, two parts public disservice. Broadening the Congressional Review Act’s accepted definition of “rules.”
Federal agencies’ informal guidance documents, for example, are seldom submitted to Congress. What if they were forwarded to the Government Accountability Office, with a request to assess whether they rise to the level of a rule? What if the GAO determined that, yes, such guidelines fit the definition of a rule? What if that determination started the 60-day clock?
No what ifs about it. Republicans — Toomey, in fact — did just that with Consumer Financial Protection Bureau guidelines directed at discriminatory auto lending — guidelines issued in 2013. The GAO determined in December that the guidelines fit the legal definition of a rule. Republicans in the Senate this month voted to rescind the rules and the GOP-led House will follow suit any minute, if it hasn’t already. President Donald Trump’s signature is a certainty.
Republicans are gleeful at this opportunity to not only rewrite history but to revise it.
“It’s a hugely important precedent,” Toomey told Politico. “It’s potentially a big, big opening.”
It’s also a potentially big, big headache: For industries that may see long-settled rules of operation disappear in a matter of months; for consumers who may see much-needed protections evaporate without explanation; and for lawmakers themselves, who may see hard-won legislative victories of decades ago reversed by a slim partisan majority.
Ignoring pressing, present-day issues like gun violence and sexual harassment, Toomey and his party have instead focused their efforts on manufacturing yet another partisan ploy — this time for rewriting rules of the past.
He and they are a big, big disappointment.