The Corner

(Probably) Not A Parody

Politico reports on some recently departed federal employees who are devastated to find that the regulations they worked on at the end of the Obama years are now about to be undone. 

Using the Congressional Review Act (which the story’s authors describe as both “a once-obscure law” and “a rarely used legislative tool”), Congress and the president can quickly roll back regulations enacted in the last six months of the Obama administration. And wouldn’t you know it, the people who produced those rules aren’t happy about it. 

But rather than attribute this turn of events to what happens when your party is out of power in both of the elected branches, these former officials describe the rollback of regulations as a failure of governance, and even of democracy. 

Joe Pizarchik, who ran the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement in the Interior Department throughout the Obama years, apparently “spent more than seven years working on a regulation to protect streams from mountaintop removal coal mining.” Poor guy. And now the Congress is rolling it back. “My biggest disappointment,” he tells Politico, “is a majority in Congress ignored the will of the people.”

That majority in Congress was of course elected by the people, while Pizarchik wasn’t. But it gets worse. “I believe there’s a good chance that, in a legal challenge, that a court will overturn Congress’ actions here,” Pizarchik tells Politico, “as an unconstitutional usurpation of the executive branch’s powers.”

But of course the president, who runs the executive branch (and was also elected by the people), would have to sign off on Congress’s rolling back of these rules. That’s why Congressional Republicans couldn’t do this while Obama was in office. They had bigger majorities in both houses a year ago than they do now, after all. What they lacked was the president’s signature. So would an act of Congress signed by the president that undoes a regulatory agency’s interpretation of its mandate from Congress be an unconstitutional usurpation?

I suppose just having former Obama Administration officials worried about unconstitutional usurpations is some kind of progress.

Yuval Levin is the director of social, cultural, and constitutional studies at the American Enterprise Institute and the editor of National Affairs.