This Tuesday, the 115th Congress was sworn in and began to conduct its business. While many of the actions involve housekeeping – for example, Committee appointments – others began to set the stage for Congress to roll back some of the work of the Obama Administration.
For example, this week the House passed legislation – the Midnight Rules Relief Act – which would allow Congress to bundle regulations for purposes of rescinding them under the Congressional Review Act. This means that lawmakers could act swiftly to undo a number of controversial regulations issued in the last six months – and many already have a list of targets. The House Committee on Education and the Workforce has called for an end to new rules regarding overtime pay, rescission of the controversial “supplement, not supplant” rules promulgated under the Every Student Succeeds Act, which it calls a “multibillion-dollar regulatory tax on local communities.”
The REINS Act (H.R. 26) was also approved by the House this week. Though it has been introduced a number of times in recent years, this is the first time the legislation has actually been passed. The bill would prevent new major rules from taking effect unless and until they are explicitly approved by a joint resolution in Congress, essentially preventing agencies from doing anything Congressional leadership does not like. Still, this should not be problematic in the new administration, as the President-elect has vowed to reduce, not increase, the number of regulations.
Finally, the House approved a new rules package for the 115th Congress (the Senate does not approve a new rules document each session because it is a continuously operating body). Among the provisions included in the package is one that reinstates the “Holman Rule.” This rule, previously discontinued in 1983, allows amendments to appropriations bills that instruct agencies reduce the number or salaries of federal employees or reduce compensation for specific employees. This means lawmakers can now easily act to change federal employees’ salaries, or eliminate targeted positions or staff – a move that could be a morale-killer, at best, for agency workers.
The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions announced that it would be adding three new members to replace those who have retired or are leaving the Committee. The new members are Senators Tim Kaine (D-VA), who has promoted career and technical education and school desegregation, Todd Young (R-IN), a freshman Senator who is critical of the federal role in education, and Senator Maggie Hassan (D-NH), a former governor who defeated incumbent Senator Kelly Ayotte and, as governor, vetoed a bill to repeal the Common Core State Standards.
House Committees are still deciding membership, but in a statement, new House Education Committee Chairwoman Virginia Foxx (R-NC) said the Committee was already planning to move forward with a number of new legislative proposals. “The committee will continue to work towards fostering the best opportunities for students to learn, workers to succeed, and employers to grow,” she said. “Our creative, ambitious pursuit of good policy will be guided by the Constitution with solutions centered on securing and protecting access to high quality education and safe and productive workplaces for all Americans.”