Last week, in case our readers missed it, House Speaker Paul Ryan did an interesting interview with Sean Hannity on the question of Congress’ role in moving the agenda of the new president.
Video of the interview can be found in two parts here and here, but the gist of Ryan’s statements was that (1) he has a 200-day timeline for accomplishing a giant chunk of Donald Trump’s agenda, like repealing and replacing Obamacare, tax reform and so forth, (2) they’re on schedule for accomplishing that agenda and what pieces of it aren’t brought to the president’s desk (because, Ryan says, of potential delays in the Senate) will have enough of a buffer built in that they’ll easily get done by the end of the year, and (3), perhaps most interestingly, until they’re ready in mid-March to take up an Obamacare repeal and replace bill, what Congress is doing is wiping away a flurry of regulatory detritus the Obama administration pelted the American people with on its way out of office.
You’ve probably heard of that bureaucratic orgy, but not necessarily what it means in real life. Having done some research and consulted with a contact or two on the Hill, I can say this is a lot bigger deal than it’s been given credit for.
A couple of things are at play here. First is that following the enactment of any federal regulation Congress has 60 days to prevent it from taking effect. As such, it’s proper for this Congress, as it’s picking up the pieces left over from the Obama administration, to be spending time playing whack-a-mole with those regulations.
Second, because the Democrats have done so much to stall the confirmations of so much of Trump’s cabinet, the federal agencies are either unstaffed in many cases — or worse, they’re staffed with holdovers from the previous administration. That means for the time being, the executive branch can’t be counted on to clean up the mess Obama left.
Remember the quote from Dune two columns ago in this space? “House Atreides took control of Arrakis 63 standard days into the year 10,191. It was known that the Harkonnens, the former rulers of Arrakis, would leave many suicide troops behind. Atreides patrols were doubled.” That quote applied to the political assassination of Mike Flynn. It applies to this business perhaps even more accurately. Obama’s Harkonnens aren’t going to root out Harkonnen policy.
So Ryan and his House members are taking the lead in throwing out the regulatory trash. Here’s what they’ve done so far.
First, two regulatory repeals have already made it to Trump’s desk and been signed into law. You maybe have heard about the Stream Protection Rule, which was a Department of Interior rule that could eliminate one-third of American coal mining jobs; when Trump signed the repeal of that he had a whole room full of coal miners, a lot of whom were in unions, and West Virginia senator Joe Manchin was standing next to him with a big “I suppose I’m the one Democrat this guy absolutely owns” smile on his face. Also was a repeal of a Securities and Exchange Commission rule that hurts American oil and gas companies on the world stage.
Another repeal of a regulation that Trump is set to sign at some point soon, as it has passed both the House and Senate, is a Social Security Background Check Database rule that bars Americans from their Second Amendment rights under the Constitution without due process. You’ve likely heard about that one — it was an especially pernicious Obama attack on gun owners and could lead to all kinds of dystopian consequences. Essentially, that rule allowed the Social Security Administration to flag people on disability as “mental defectives” and therefore disqualified from buying guns. At 30,000 feet that sounds like it might be good policy, but if you think about the way federal agencies have been politicized it isn’t very appetizing to think of some Lois Lerner-style troglodyte at the Social Security Administration making decisions as to which of that agency’s clients are too Tea Party to merit Second Amendment rights. No, thanks. That regulation can drop dead — and it will.
Oh, but there’s more. Here are 10 repeals awaiting action in the Senate, most or all very likely to be sent to Trump’s desk soon. Some of these sound like hills Chuck Schumer and his crowd would die on, but the good news is you can’t filibuster one of these 60-day regulatory repeals…
Now, if you want you can question why the House didn’t just do a blanket repeal of everything Obama’s administration forced on the American people, and then let the agencies reinstitute regulations that do have some worth. This is the part some conservatives won’t like — I’m told there simply weren’t the votes to do a blanket repeal, thanks to some of the stalwart Senate Republicans whose names you can probably guess. And lots of these regulations (almost 2,000 in all) are so totally in the weeds and have such a small footprint that taking them up individually would threaten Ryan’s timeline for Trump’s agenda. To eliminate those, Trump is going to have to have his people in place and those repeals will need to be done through the executive branch.
But there are more of these rules to come, and for most of the next 30 days this “grunt work” is what Congress will be working on. For the most part Ryan won’t get credit for doing it — you’ve likely seen some in the conservative media already beating on the GOP leadership for “slow-playing” the Trump agenda.
At this moment, that criticism isn’t fair. That said, while cleaning up the unmentionables after Obama’s regulatory Bacchanal is the Lord’s work, Ryan advertised that by mid-March he’d have Obamacare in his crosshairs. He’s going to have to stick to that schedule, because the folks who put the GOP in sole control of the federal government are not going to be interested in excuses. If this is spring training, it had better produce a team ready to win on Opening Day.
Obamacare was passed into law on March 23, 2010. If it turns seven years old without at least being repealed by a vote in the House this year, all the regulatory repeals in the world won’t be worth much.