When Vice President-elect Mike Pence addressed House Republicans in a closed-door meeting earlier this month, he let them know just how quickly his running mate plans to get to work.
The Jan. 20 parade from the Capitol to the White House would be sped up, Pence said, so a newly inaugurated President Donald Trump could sit down sooner in the Oval Office and start rescinding his predecessor’s executive actions. The lawmakers cheered, two people in the room said.
When it comes to unraveling President Obama’s legacy, Trump could not have found a more enthusiastic partner than the GOP Congress.
After just two weeks of work, the House has passed several sweeping bills that, if enacted, would roll back scores of Obama administration regulations and make it significantly harder for future presidents — including Trump — to write similar rules. One measure would allow Congress to eliminate a host of regulations in one fell swoop, while another would make it harder for agencies to issue rules.
Next month, the House is expected to take up more targeted measures that would use fast-track procedures to undo several recent rules issued by executive-branch agencies.
The effort to eliminate existing regulations and place curbs on future ones has garnered almost unheard-of unanimity among fractious House Republicans and heralds sweeping changes to federal labor, environmental and financial oversight as the GOP takes control of Washington.
Not a single House GOP member opposed a trio of major regulatory restructuring bills that have passed this year; two other recent House bills to restrict financial-industry regulation were opposed by only one Republican — Rep. Walter B. Jones of North Carolina.
“It brings everybody together,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, whose members have often bucked party leaders on major votes.
Among the regulations on the Republican chopping block are Interior Department rules aimed at protecting waterways near coal mines and preventing the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells, as well as a Labor Department rule that expands overtime eligibility.
Democrats, along with major labor, consumer and environmental groups, are warning of significant and lasting harm to the public from the GOP push. A list of targets from the House Freedom Caucus includes school-lunch nutrition guidelines, renewable fuel standards and anti-tobacco programs.
The effort could be slowed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who has expressed general enthusiasm for regulatory restructuring measures — but who has yet to commit scarce Senate floor time, with health-care and tax changes looming.
House Republicans, however, are pushing full speed ahead. The Freedom Caucus has drawn up a list of more than 200 executive orders or regulations, most but not all issued by Obama, that it is eager to see Congress or Trump undo.
Republican lawmakers are being encouraged by conservative activist groups — including the Club for Growth, Heritage Action for America and the Koch network — that are pressing lawmakers to make good on years of small-government promises while the GOP controls both houses of Congress and the White House.
While conservative activists might have their differences with Trump on infrastructure spending and entitlement revisions, stifling regulation is one area where they appear to be simpatico.
“Regulations have grown into a massive, job-killing industry, and the regulation industry is one business I will put an end to,” Trump said in a September policy address.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said this month that regulatory rollbacks “will be one of the highest priorities of this new unified Republican government.”
“For too long, unelected bureaucrats have been simply telling people how things are going to be,” he said. “This needs to change, and not just by peeling away this rule or that particular regulation.”
The Koch-affiliated Freedom Partners recently issued a “Roadmap to Repeal” laying out dozens of Obama-era executive actions and agency regulations it says constitute an “unprecedented onslaught of regulatory costs on the U.S. economy.” The group has assembled a list of dozens of Obama initiatives it wants to see reversed. Some can be ended with a stroke of Trump’s pen, others are in the rulemaking process and can be withdrawn, and still others can be targeted through Congress or the courts.
The well-funded group is poised to reward or punish lawmakers, promising to “educate voters” on whether particular legislators follow through.
“If we do not take on regulatory reform now and keep those promises we’ve been talking about for years, then this would be a signature failure for us,” said Rep. Douglas A. Collins (R-Ga.), an author of the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS, Act, which passed the House on Jan. 5.
The bill would require Congress to approve any agency regulation that would have an economic effect of more than $100 million, would lead to a “major increase in costs or prices” for consumers, industries, government agencies or geographic regions, or would have “significant adverse effects” on employment, investment, productivity or innovation.
Another House-passed bill, the Midnight Rules Relief Act, would allow Congress to undo dozens of recent Obama administration regulations in one combined action, while a third, the Regulatory Accountability Act, would place major burdens on agencies seeking to issue regulations — requirements that Democrats say would “grind the rulemaking system to a halt.”
“What you do when you repeal regulations or make it harder to have regulations is you make it better for business, better for the Chamber crowd, better for the manufacturing folk,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said on the House floor. “The side that loses is that of the consumers and the folks who will be injured or killed because of lack of regulations.”
Each of the anti-regulatory bills passed the House in some form in previous Congresses, but Obama’s veto pen and the threat of a Senate filibuster kept the legislation from advancing. Now opponents are worried that Republicans will succeed in landing at least some of the bills on Trump’s desk.
Robert Weissman, president of advocacy group Public Citizen and chairman of a coalition opposing the bills, said the GOP legislation would “wipe out our ability to establish and enforce public protections, with catastrophic consequences.”
“That House Republicans are choosing to make this package of bills one of their first orders of business shows that they believe their constituents are corporations and the super rich, not the American people,” he said.
Collins pointed to the recent uptick in the stock market as proof of enthusiasm about the GOP’s anti-regulatory agenda.
“The mood in the country is saying we’re no longer going to have to be worrying.”
The House will soon move to undo several recent regulations using the 1996 Congressional Review Act, which includes fast-track procedures to skirt Senate filibusters. Targets could include the stream-protection and overtime measures, as well as regulations on aircraft greenhouse-gas emissions, appliance efficiency standards and nondiscrimination compliance rules for federal contractors. If those efforts are successful, future presidents could be prevented from reregulating those areas.