During the first two years of the Trump administration, Congress used an obscure piece of legislation known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to dismantle public protections and rig the rules against American workers, consumers, and families. In 2017, Congress used the CRA to block the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces rule, which would have prohibited federal contractors from using forced arbitration clauses to keep worker civil rights and sexual harassment claims out of the court system. It also repealed the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s (CFPB) Forced Arbitration rule, which would have banned mandatory arbitration clauses in contracts for consumer financial products such as bank accounts and credit cards.
Signed into law 20 years ago, the CRA allows Congress — by a majority vote in both chambers, with limited debate and no possibility of a filibuster, along with the president’s signature — to override recently issued public protections. A vote to block a rule may be held within 60 legislative days after the rule is published in the Federal Register or received by Congress. With virtually no consideration, hearings or evidence, Congress can block rules that agencies took years to formulate after extensive research, analysis, and public input.
The CRA’s expedited process makes it very easy to repeal critical health, safety, consumer and environmental protections in just a few days or even hours. Worse, the CRA blocks agencies from issuing rules that are “substantially the same” without express authorization from Congress. Thus, once public protections are repealed under the CRA, we may never get them back.
Prior to 2017, the CRA had only been used once, in 2001, to block a rule issued by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requiring employers to take measures to curb ergonomic injuries in the workplace. During the 115th Congress (2017-2019), the body blocked 16 public protections using the CRA: