H.R. 21, the “Midnight Rules Relief Act” passed yesterday by the U.S. House of Representatives, is written in such a way that it’s almost impossible to tell what the bill is about. This is a good sign that a bill seeks to accomplish something controversial. Another sign that a bill seeks to accomplish something controversial is that it’s passed immediately after introduction, before staffers can write a legible summary for citizens to read. That’s exactly what happened with H.R. 21 — it was passed the same day it was introduced.
Fortunately, we can look to a previous iteration of the Midnight Rules Relief Act to understand what the just-passed bill intends to do. That previous iteration, H.R. 4612 of the 114th Congress, would have prohibited federal agencies from enacting any new regulatory rules after a presidential election in which the current president is not the winner, calling such a period after a presidential election the “moratorium period.” H.R. 21 is almost like that, except for two provisions:
1) It expands the “moratorium period” to the last full year of a president’s term. This strips a president of executive powers for a full fourth of their term.
2) It allows the Congress to retroactively nullify, after the fact, any presidential regulation during the “moratorium period” by simply passing a law. This effectively grants the Congress not just legislative power but also executive veto power over the prior president… when this prior president just happens to be named Barack Obama. Under this assertive new bill, “Midnight” is defined as the entire fourth year of a past president’s term.
Every single Republican member of the House who was present in the chamber voted for the measure. The bill has passed the House and is moving on to the Republican-controlled Senate.