Republicans Are Using An Arcane Tool To Handcuff Federal Agencies

While President Donald Trump distracts the public with his angry tweets, Republicans in Congress have been busy undoing federal regulations that agencies have been working on for years.

GOP lawmakers are dismantling regulations they deem overreaching and burdensome using an obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act, or CRA, which can be used to undo any regulation within 60 days of its finalization. The law, passed in 1996, also bars agencies from writing a “substantially” similar rule after the initial rule has been blocked ― a major concern for legal experts and advocates.

The CRA came to be under legislation pushed by then-Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.). Lawmakers wanted an easier way to undo regulations, even though agencies can only issue them according to statutes written by Congress. 

Congress had only used the CRA once before Trump took office, which is another reason people are concerned about its implications. There isn’t a whole lot of legal precedent concerning how and when it should be used.

In 2001, Republicans used the CRA to undo a Clinton-era regulation creating new workplace ergonomics rules to prevent repetitive injuries. The agency that wrote the rule ― the Occupational Safety and Health Administration ― never touched ergonomics standards again.

Ergonomics may sound silly, but the rules weren’t about desk jockeys dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome. Think more like meat-packers crippled by repetitive injuries ― those are the people the regulation would have helped the most.

“Ergonomic injury is very common among poultry processing workers, both because repetitive knife cuts and hoisting heavy birds on and off the assembly line cause debilitating carpal tunnel,” explained University of Maryland law professor Rena Steinzor, formerly president of the Center for Progressive Reform.

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