Congressional Democrats are running out of time to undo many regulations finalized by the previous administration during former president Donald Trump’s last weeks in office.
By this time in 2017, Republicans had started the process of nullifying more than a dozen rules finalized in the closing weeks of the Obama administration. So far, Democrats have introduced only six resolutions, but passed none.
Trump’s impeachment trial, a delayed handover of power in the Senate, and negotiations over a massive coronavirus relief bill have all consumed time on the legislative calendar.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Democrats would soon take action to repeal two Trump regulations ― one governing how employers can resolve workplace bias claims and another dealing with methane emissions from fossil fuels.
A 1996 law called the Congressional Review Act gives Congress the power to cancel regulations finalized within a short time period, creating a window of opportunity when White House control switches parties. The law creates a fast-track process that disallows Senate filibusters, meaning Democrats can bypass Republicans to strike regulations with simple majority votes.
But the time window is closing. According to an analysis by the good-government group Public Citizen, Sunday was the deadline for introducing a resolution of disapproval under the law’s complex “lookback period” provisions, and Congress has until mid-May to approve resolutions that have been introduced.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) introduced a disapproval resolution last week targeting a change to the Social Security disability benefits appeals process. The regulation, finalized in November, reduces the role of administrative law judges in hearing appeals from people denied Social Security Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income benefits.
For years, Republicans have complained that administrative law judges have too much leeway to approve benefits. But ALJs are typically a claimant’s first opportunity to plead their case in person, and Larson said reducing their role amounted to an assault on due process for claimants.
“It is vital we overturn this destructive Trump Administration rule and instead work to make it easier for Americans to access the benefits they have earned,” Larson said.
It’s not clear if the resolution will get a vote. Larson’s office said he’s pushing for one.
Democrats did not introduce a resolution to stop another Social Security regulation, also finalized in December, that will likely make it harder to win benefits based on musculoskeletal disorders.
The Trump administration pushed several rules to reduce disability enrollment, which had already been falling for years. Larson and some other Democrats have called for President Joe Biden to fire Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul, a Trump appointee whose term isn’t up until 2025.
The Trump administration finalized more than two dozen regulations after Aug. 21 that Congress could vote to cancel, according to Public Citizen’s tally.
In 2017, Republicans used the law to disapprove 16 regulations.
One reason Democrats might hesitate is that the Congressional Review Act says that once a rule has been disapproved, an agency can’t reissue a rule that is “substantially the same” as the stricken one. But that didn’t stop the Trump administration from reissuing a regulation on drug testing and unemployment benefits after Republicans killed the Obama-era version.
Democrats also have a packed agenda when Congress returns to Washington from a two-week recess next week, including taking up bills dealing with COVID-19 hate crimes, infrastructure, climate change, voting rights, gun control and immigration. But none of those issues faces an impending deadline like the matter of repealing regulations Democrats opposed under Trump.