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Wonkology: Resolution of Disapproval

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February 5, 2014


A New Hope

A resolution of disapproval is a joint resolution of both chambers of Congress that, if signed by the President, voids an executive branch (or independent agency) regulation. Congress created this type of resolution in the 1996 Congressional Review Act in order to reclaim some of its policymaking authority from the sprawling Executive Branch.

Congress Strikes Back

Since 1996, there has been only one instance of a resolution of disapproval that successfully overturned an Executive Branch action. In 2001, recently-inaugurated President George W. Bush and a Republican Congress overturned a Clinton-era OSHA regulation.

Since the resolution must be signed by the President, and the President would almost certainly veto a measure that blocks one of his own regulations, it would typically only be used for regulations of a prior administration (as Bush did) or else Congress would need to override the veto by a two-thirds supermajority. Most often, a resolution of disapproval is a tool for Congress to register its prerogative, with the effort often dying before reaching the President.

Return of the Debt Limit

In 2011, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed a compromise that would have allowed President Obama to raise the debt limit unless Congress rejects the increase via a resolution of disapproval. Though the Senate voted down McConnell's proposal in 2011, the concept re-emerged in the negotiations to end the October 2013 government shutdown. The McConnell proposal passed the Republican-led House but failed in the Democratically-controlled Senate. The Treasury Department has warned that the debt limit must be raised prior to the end of February, and now some Senate Democrats have reversed course by suggesting their support for what could one day be the "McConnell Rule."

If the McConnell Rule were to go into effect, it could eliminate the heartburn surrounding recent attempts to raise the debt limit. But the result would ironically be a contravention of the intention behind both the resolution of disapproval and the requirement that Congress raise the debt limit: Congress would cede further powers to the President.

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