Congressional Review Act: Great Idea, Limited Success

Congressional Review Act: Great Idea, Limited Success

The Congressional Review Act (Public Law 104-121), enacted in 1996 as part of the "Contract with America," allows Congress to review, by means of an expedited legislative process, new federal regulations issued by government agencies. In addition, the law provides a mechanism whereby Congress can overrule a regulation by passage of a joint resolution.

Measures of disapproval cannot be filibustered in the Senate, so they can be cleared with simple majority votes in each chamber of Congress. They are, however, subject to presidential veto, so although several joint resolutions of disapproval have been introduced in the intervening period, only one has been successfully enacted into law: S. J. Res. 6 (Public Law 107-5), which overturned the U.S. Department of Labor's (DOL) Clinton-era rule relating to ergonomics. That resolution was enacted in early 2001, when Republicans held majorities in the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the presidency.

Despite the odds, a group of House and Senate Republicans have announced plans to formally challenge a new National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) rule designed to make it easier to hold union elections once organizers gather enough petitions from workers. The NLRB rule would delay any lawsuits filed by employers challenging the validity of such petitions until a vote has occurred. Critics of the rule argue that it violates employers' free speech rights by limiting the time they have to make their case to workers against unionizing. This comes on the heels of House passage of a measure (HR 3094) last November that would require a waiting period between the filing of petitions and a union election. The NLRB rule also is being challenged in court.

The 112th Congress has hammered the Obama Administration over and over on regulatory overreach, and continues to examine potential reforms to the regulatory process. The Congressional Review Act is a great tool to keep the executive branch in check, but it really only works when you control every branch of government. Unless they retain their House majority, retake control of the Senate, and defeat President Obama in November, the likelihood of Republicans using this tool successfully in overturning the NLRB action is very slim indeed.

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