During President Obama’s first inauguration, a group of Republicans met in a downtown Washington, D.C., restaurant to construct the scaffolding that would later be characterized as sustained obstructionism. Their objective, as voiced by Mitch McConnell, on the floor of the Senate, was to make Barack Obama a one-term president.
For the Republicans it was not about governing or putting the needs of the country before party (recall that we were just beginning Act I of the Great Recession). The GOP, despite the economic exigencies, soon became the party of “No!”
I read recently in the New York Times that immediately following the November 2016 presidential election, a group of select Republicans and aides met in Washington, D.C., this time in the Capitol suite of House Speaker Paul Ryan. The purpose of the meeting was not to craft future legislation, but to use a little-known law called the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allowed conservative lawmakers 60 legislative days post-inauguration to overturn President Obama’s regulations as carried out by federal agencies.
According to the Times, when that 60-day window closed, in early May, it would be far more difficult to overturn these rules. Using the CRA, therefore, was far simpler, requiring only an up or down vote by Congress and could not be challenged legally post-repeal. All that would be needed was congressional passage and a signature from the executive branch (Trump). In the 21 years of its existence, the CRA has been used only once, and that was by G.W. Bush.
So, during the transition, a series of meetings were held and a list of targeted regulations created, most believed to be presidential overreach by Obama, resulting, Republicans insisted, in a negative impact on economic growth.
This list was then passed by the Republican Congress and sent to Trump, resulting in his signing 13 bills (exceeding all expectations) that eliminated rules involving the environment, finance, internet privacy, abortion, education and gun rights.
Some examples of the rollbacks:
An early Obama rule had banned coal companies from dumping waste (e.g. coal ash, laden with toxic metals) into local streams and waterways thereby preventing illnesses from drinking contaminated water.
Another rule that was eliminated required the Social Security Administration to provide information about mentally incapacitated people to law enforcement agencies that conducted background checks for gun purchases. Now these people — an estimated 75,000 — will not need a Justice Department waiver to buy a gun.
Congress overturned a bill, with Trump's approval, which had prohibited Internet providers from collecting, disseminating, or selling consumers’ personal data without their permission.
States are no longer prohibited from denying funding for women’s health services if the agency also provides abortions. An example would be Planned Parenthood.
Some businesses no longer are required to keep records of work-related injuries and illnesses for five years. Now it’s only six months.
Beyond the CRA, Trump and Congress, intent on unraveling the Obama legacy, also rolled back numerous environmental regulations.
The Dakota Access pipeline has now been approved.
All requirements that oil and gas companies report methane emissions have been canceled.
The Keystone XL pipeline is green-lighted and a freeze on new coal leases has been lifted.
Previous scientific analysis had established a link between the insecticide Chlorpyrifos and fetal brain and nervous system damage. Scott Pruitt, head of the EPA, has lifted that ban.
The ban against hunting predators in Alaskan refuges has been overturned.
A review has been ordered of a rule that protects tributaries and wetlands under the Clean Water Act.
A review of fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks is now underway.
A review of all national monuments created under the Antiquities Act since 1996 has been ordered. Obama had set aside some 4 million acres of land and several million square miles of ocean.
Offshore drilling policies are now under review, including the Alaska and Atlantic coasts.
A rule aimed at increasing safety at chemical plants that produce hazardous materials has been delayed.
And so we begin the second 100 days. The House repeal and replacement plan will finally be scored by the Congressional Budget Office and then debated by the Senate. Thankfully, it’s not over until it’s over.
— Chris Honoré of Ashland is a Daily Tidings columnist.