Thursday, October 29, 2015

Senate Republicans Plan Use of Congressional Review Act Procedure to Deliver WOTUS Rule Message

Republican Senate aides are hinting that the full Senate could vote sometime within the next two weeks on S.J.Res.22, a Congressional Review Act (or "CRA") resolution designed to block the Obama Administration's new Clean Water Rule (or "WOTUS" - Waters of the United States - rule). The Congressional Review Act of 1996 established special congressional procedures for disapproving a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies.  Using the CRA process allows measures to pass the Senate on only a simple majority vote; however, resolution passage is a steep legislative hill to climb, especially in the face of a likely Presidential veto (a two-thirds majority is still required under CRA procedures to override a veto).  Only one CRA challenge has ever successfully passed Congress to become law, and most CRA resolutions are used more for messaging purposes than anything else.

Officially called "A joint resolution providing for congressional disapproval under chapter 8 of title 5, United States Code, of the rule submitted by the Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency relating to the definition of 'waters of the United States' under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act," S.J.Res.22 is backed by 48 Republican senators in addition to the resolution's sponsor, Iowa GOP Senator Joni Ernst.  Sen. Ernst is reported to have circulated a discharge petition and secured enough votes to allow the resolution to move directly to the Senate floor without first going through committee.

On July 7, Rep. Adrian Smith (R-Nebraska) filed a House CRA challenge to vacate the Clean Water Rule: H. J. Res. 59.   That resolution has yet to be referred by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to the full House for consideration.

For details on how CRA challenges work, you can read this Congressional Research Service July 29 report on alternatives available to Congress to address the WOTUS rule issue.

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