House Passes Bills to Give Trump More Power Over Agency Rulemaking

(Photo: Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Edited: LW / TO)(Photo: Texas State Library and Archives Commission; Edited: LW / TO)

The House of Representatives advanced two bills on Wednesday that would expand presidential influence over the federal rulemaking process.

One piece of legislation would subject independent agency draft regulations to White House review — through the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). Another would create a board, composed of presidential appointees, “to determine if a rule or set of rules should be repealed.”

Both proposals advanced roughly along party lines through the Republican-controlled body. No less than a dozen members on both sides crossed the aisle on the review board vote. Seven Democrats joined Republicans to approve of the OIRA measure.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, had harsh words for the proposals, in reports published last month by the panel.

“A primary concern with subjecting independent agencies to OIRA review of rulemakings is that those agencies are designed to be independent,” he said, “and therefore not subject to political review of their regulatory actions by the White House.”

Cummings said that the proposed review board would “prioritize corporate profits over the health and safety of the American public,” and cost the taxpayers $30 million to boot.

Unlike executive agencies, independent agencies are run by a board of appointed commissioners. Their leaders don’t serve in the Presidential Cabinet, unlike department secretaries.

Most independent agencies also, by law, require the president to appoint board members or commissioners on a bipartisan basis, ensuring dissenting views are already baked into their rulemaking processes.

Many financial regulatory agencies are considered independent, including: the Federal Reserve, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Commodities Futures Trading Commission, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, the Federal Housing Finance Agency, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

So, too, are other significant technical economic regulators, including: the Federal Communications Commission, the National Labor Relations Board and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

In the committee report on the OIRA reform bill, Republicans argued that Democrats have wanted the legislation passed, when they controlled the White House. In their case, they cited former Obama White House officials and an executive order from 2011.

“Numerous regulatory experts have recommended that OIRA’s review extend to independent agencies,” said House Oversight Committee chair Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah).

A relatively obscure office, OIRA is rather influential, reviewing every executive agency’s draft “major rules” before they are published in the Federal Register.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) oversees OIRA. President Trump’s pick to run OMB is former Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a far-right policymaker who once voted to declare Social Security and Medicare unconstitutional.