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Cokie Roberts Answers Your Questions About Federal Regulations


And it's time now for Ask Cokie. You send us questions about how government and politics work, and commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts makes sense of all of it. She joins me now on the line. Hi, Cokie.


MARTIN: We're going to talk about regulations today because this is something President Trump has spoken a lot about. He says he's going to stimulate the economy, bring back American jobs by slashing federal regulations. On Friday, President Trump signed an executive order directing federal agencies to identify rules that could hurt American businesses and workers. Let's listen to that.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: We're working very hard to roll back the regulatory burden so that coal miners, factory workers, small business owners and so many others can grow their businesses and thrive.

MARTIN: Not to be outdone, Congress has been busy undoing some of the rules put in place by President Obama, which leads us to our first listener question.

LAURIE: This is Laurie (ph) from Minneapolis, Minn. Please explain the Congressional Review Act that is being used to repeal rules that were finalized under the Obama administration. How broadly can it be applied? How far back can it go? And how often has it been used prior to this Congress?

MARTIN: Cokie?

ROBERTS: Very good question because this is a law that very few people know about. It was part of Newt Gingrich's Contract with America, when the Republicans ran to take over the Congress. And it's only been used successfully once, after President Bush was elected in 2000. That was repealing a labor-backed workplace rule aimed at preventing repetitive stress syndrome. It applies to rules promulgated 60 legislative days before the end of a Congress. And right now, that's calculated to go back to rules from May on in 2016. And then the new Congress has 60 days from the start of a session to use it. So that's why this whole flurry of activity now.

MARTIN: OK. They're using it - how so? What's been repealed so far?

ROBERTS: Well, so far both houses of Congress have both passed a repeal of a Social Security Disability rule that says that mentally unstable people's names should be sent to the national criminal background system on guns. And the House has passed several on their own, some having to do with methane emissions, some having to do with animals on national lands - all kinds of things.

The one that is probably the most controversial was a rule that said that you couldn't discriminate against family planning providers for anything but the quality of care. This was aimed at keeping Planned Parenthood from being defunded. And it's interesting to note here, Rachel, that once the Senate takes these things up, no filibuster applies. This law is un-filibusterable (ph).

MARTIN: OK. So let's get to our next question, this from Carol Gonzales, who wrote us on Twitter. She says, regarding the rule that says once repealed, another regulation can't be similar, how specific is that? So, Cokie, Carol is referring there - the rule she's talking about is part of the Congressional Review Act, right?

ROBERTS: Yeah, go, Carol. She really knows her stuff. We don't really know exactly how specific it is, but the Congress is trying - or at least some members of Congress are trying - to make sure that any regulation that is of any import comes to them. So the House of Representatives has passed something called the REINS Act, which stands for Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny...

MARTIN: (Laughter).

ROBERTS: ...That says that instead of disapproval of a major rule within 60 days, Congress must have approval within 70 legislative days, unless the president says the rule is necessary for the health, security or an emergency.

MARTIN: So what does this mean, Cokie? Is Congress likely to debate every single rule proposed by every single federal agency?

ROBERTS: Well, if they have their own way, not - because they don't really want to get into this morass. Rulemaking is really complicated. Experts are called in. Industry does have its voice. Labor has a voice. And so for Congress to really want to go over every single one of them, I can't imagine that they want that responsibility. But it's a popular idea. You know, this gets back to what we were talking about last week. What Congress is supposed to do about rules is oversight. And that's what they haven't been doing much of.

MARTIN: Commentator and columnist Cokie Roberts. You can tweet us a question. Use the hashtag, #AskCokie. Or, of course, you can email us. Hey, Cokie, thanks so much.

ROBERTS: Good to be with you, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.