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The Congressional Review Act: Determining Which “Rules” Must Be Submitted to Congress

The Congressional Review Act: Determining Which “Rules” Must Be Submitted to Congress – July 5, 2018 R45248

“The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to review certain types of federal agency actions that fall under the statutory category of “rules.” The CRA requires that agencies report their rules to Congress and provides special procedures under which Congress can consider legislation to overturn those rules. A joint resolution of disapproval will become effective once both houses of Congress pass a joint resolution and it is signed by the President, or if Congress overrides the President’s veto. The CRA generally adopts a broad definition of the word “rule” from the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), defining a rule as “the whole or a part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or describing the organization, procedure, or practice requirements of an agency.” The CRA, however, provides three exceptions to this broad definition: any rule of particular applicability, including a rule that approves or prescribes for the future rates, wages, prices, services, or allowances therefor, corporate or financial structures, reorganizations, mergers, or acquisitions thereof, or accounting practices or disclosures bearing on any of the foregoing; any rule relating to agency management or personnel; or any rule of agency organization, procedure, or practice that does not substantially affect the rights or obligations of non-agency parties. The class of rules the CRA covers is broader than the category of rules that are subject to the APA’s notice-and-comment requirements. As such, some agency actions, such as guidance documents, that are not subject to notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures may still be considered rules under the CRA and thus could be overturned using the CRA’s procedures. The effect of Congress disapproving a rule that is not subject to notice-and-comment rulemaking may be subject to debate, given that such rules are generally viewed to lack any legal effect in the first place. Nonetheless, the CRA does encompass some such rules, as highlighted by the recent enactment of a CRA resolution overturning a bulletin from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was not subject to the notice-and-comment procedures. Even if an agency action falls under the CRA’s definition of “rule,” however, the expedited procedures for considering legislation to overturn the rule only become available when the agency submits the rule to Congress. In many cases in which agencies take actions that fall under the scope of a “rule” but have not gone through notice-and-comment rulemaking procedures, agencies fail to submit those rules. Thus, questions have arisen as to how Members can avail themselves of the CRA’s special fast-track procedures if the agency has not submitted the action to Congress. To protect its prerogative to review agency rules under the CRA, Congress and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) have developed an ad hoc process in which Members can request that GAO provide a formal legal opinion on whether a particular agency action qualifies as a rule under the CRA. If GAO concludes that the action in question can be considered a rule under the CRA, Congress has treated the publication of the GAO opinion in the Congressional Record as constructive submission of the rule. In other words, an affirmative opinion from GAO can allow Congress to use the CRA procedures to consider legislation overturning an agency action despite the agency not submitting that action to Congress.”

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