Disapproval of Regulations by Congress: Procedure Under the Congressional Review Act
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The Congressional Review Act of 1996 established expedited (or “fast track”) procedures by
which Congress may disapprove a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies by
enacting a joint resolution of disapproval. For initial floor consideration, the Act provides an
expedited procedure only in the Senate. (The House would likely consider the measure pursuant
to a special rule.) The Senate may use the procedure for 60 days of session after the agency
transmits the rule to Congress. In both houses, however, to qualify for expedited consideration, a
disapproval resolution must be submitted within 60 days after Congress receives the rule,
exclusive of recess periods. Pending action on a disapproval resolution, the rule may go into
effect, unless it is a “major rule” on which the President or issuing agency does not waive a delay
period of 60 calendar days.
If a disapproval resolution is enacted, the rule may not take effect and the agency may issue no
substantially similar rule without subsequent statutory authorization. If a rule is disapproved after
going into effect, it is “treated as though [it] had never taken effect.” If either house rejects a
disapproval resolution, the rule may take effect at once. If the President vetoes the resolution, the
rule may not take effect for 30 days of session thereafter, unless the House or Senate votes to
sustain the veto. If a session of Congress adjourns sine die less than 60 days of session after th
receiving a rule, the full 60-day periods for action begin anew on the 15 day of session after the
next session convenes.
Except for submission of disapproval resolutions and final congressional action thereon, the
expedited procedures under the Act apply only to Senate consideration. The House would
consider a disapproval resolution under its general procedures, very likely as prescribed by a
special rule reported from the Committee on Rules. In the Senate, once the resolution has been
before committee for 20 calendar days, the panel is discharged if 30 Senators submit a petition for
the purpose. Once the committee has reported or been discharged, a motion to proceed to
consider the resolution would in practice be nondebatable, and the Act prohibits various other
possible dilatory actions in relation to the motion and the resolution. Floor debate on the
resolution is limited to 10 hours, and no amendment is in order.
The Act does not preclude amendment of a disapproval resolution in the House, and means may
exist of overcoming the prohibition on amendment in the Senate. For these reasons, and because
the initial texts could differ, the resolutions initially adopted by the two houses might not be
identical. The Act enables Congress to avoid the need to resolve differences between the two
versions by providing that, when either house adopts a disapproval resolution, the other shall first
consider its own disapproval resolution and then vote on the resolution received from the first. As
long as the substantive effect of both is similar, the difference in text should not affect the
ultimate effect of the legislation. If the substantive effects differ, presumably the two measures
could not be linked in this way by using the expedited procedures of the Act.
Expedited Procedures of the Congressional Review Act................................................................1
Congressional Disapproval of Regulations...............................................................................1
Expedited or “Fast Track” Procedures......................................................................................1
Statutory Time Frames....................................................................................................................2
Initiation Period and Action Period...........................................................................................3
Effect of Sine Die Adjournment..........................................................................................4
Effects of Counting Time Periods in Different Ways................................................................5
Disapproval of Rules After they Take Effect............................................................................6
Effect on Waiting Period of Action on Disapproval Resolution...............................................7
Elements of the Expedited Procedures............................................................................................8
Submission of Rules..................................................................................................................8
Initiation of Disapproval Resolutions.......................................................................................9
Form of Disapproval Resolutions.............................................................................................9
Committee Action in the Senate..............................................................................................10
Taking Up a Disapproval Resolution in the Senate..................................................................11
Floor Consideration in the Senate...........................................................................................12
Final Congressional Action.....................................................................................................13
Vetoes and Override Attempts.................................................................................................14
Limitations of the Expedited Procedures......................................................................................15
No Expedited Procedures for Initial House Consideration.....................................................15
Likely Need for Super-Majority..............................................................................................15
Possibility of Differing Action in Each House........................................................................16
Non-Identical Disapproval Resolutions............................................................................16
Amendment Making Resolution Ineligible for Expedited Procedure...............................16
Lack of Companion Resolutions in Both Houses.............................................................17
Table 1. Defining Elements of Principal Time Periods in the Congressional Review Act..............2
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................18
The Congressional Review Act, enacted in 1996,1 establishes special congressional procedures
for disapproving a broad range of regulatory rules issued by federal agencies. Before any rule
covered by the Act can take effect, the federal agency that promulgates the rule must submit it to
Congress. If Congress passes a joint resolution disapproving the rule, and the resolution becomes
law, the rule cannot take effect or continue in effect. Also, the agency may not reissue either that 2
rule or any substantially similar one, except under authority of a subsequently enacted law.
The Congressional Review Act establishes special “expedited procedures” (also known, more
informally, as “fast track” procedures) for congressional action on these joint resolutions of 3
disapproval. The expedited procedures established by the Act include several special features,
not found in many other statutes providing for expedited procedures, that raise issues about how
Congress may apply the procedures in practice. To begin with, most (though not all) of the
expedited procedures established by the Act regulate action only in the Senate. The Act also
provides for an unusually complex set of action periods and deadlines. Finally, other provisions of
the Act impose restrictions that shape and limit the opportunities for action afforded by the 4
An expedited procedure, or “fast track” procedure, is a set of statutory provisions that govern
congressional consideration of a specified kind of measure. Most expedited procedures regulate
consideration of joint resolutions either to (1) disapprove some action that the statute authorizes
the President, or an agency of the executive branch, to take only if Congress does not disapprove,
or (2) approve some action that a statute authorizes to be taken only if Congress approves a
specific request to do so. The purpose of the expedited procedure is to enable timely action on the
1 Subtitle E (“Congressional Review”) of the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act of 1996, Title II of
the Contract with America Advancement Act of 1996, P.L. 104-121, 101 Stat. 847 at 868-874, codified at Title 5
U.S.C. Sections 801-808. The congressional disapproval procedure is contained in Section 802.
2 U.S.C. Section 801(b).
3 To date, the only rule disapproved under these procedures has been the one setting ergonomics standards for labor,
proposed late in the Clinton Administration and disapproved by P.L. 107-5, enacted on March 20, 2001. See Rebecca
Adams, “GOP-Business Alliance Yields Swift Reversal of Ergonomics Rule,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report,
Vol. 59, March 10, 2001, pp. 535–536, 538-539; Adriel Bettelheim and Rebecca Adams, “With Ergonomics Standards
Overturned, Will GOP Target Other Clinton Rules?” Ibid., p. 537; Juliet Eilperin, “GOP Targets 45 Rules to Overturn;
Clinton Policies Include Abortion, Energy Issues,” Washington Post, April 8, 2001, pp. A1, A6. See also Cindy
Skrzycki, “Ergonomics Rule in GOP’s Sights: Aiming Rusty Legislative Artillery,” Washington Post, March 6, 2001,
pp. E1, E10; Victoria Allred, “Time Left to Reverse Final Clinton Rules,” Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report,
Vol. 59, February 10, 2001, p. 312; “Wrangling Intensifies on US Rules; Little-Known Law Becomes Weapon in
Partisan Fights,” Boston Globe, March 20, 2001, pp. A1, A5.
4 Additional discussion of the expedited procedures of the Congressional Review Act, their practical implications and
potential problems, and initial attempts to use them, appears in CRS Report RL30116, Congressional Review of Agency
Rulemaking: An Update and Assessment of The Congressional Review Act after a Decade, by Morton Rosenberg.
resolution of disapproval or approval by ensuring that Congress will be able to take it up, and 5
complete action on it, within a limited period of time.
Expedited procedures that are provided for in a statute function as rules of each house of
Congress. These rules, however, are applicable only to the measures specified by the statute. The
Constitution confers the power to make procedural rules on each house of Congress separately,
but as with any other statute, enactment of a statute that establishes an expedited procedure
requires action by both houses and the President. For this reason, expedited procedure statutes
usually include language declaring that those procedures are enacted under the constitutional
rulemaking authority of each house, and reserving to each house the authority to change those 6
applicable to itself. The Congressional Review Act follows this practice.
The Congressional Review Act establishes three principal time periods for congressional action
on a joint resolution disapproving a rule, or regulation, proposed by the executive branch. Two of
these, here called the initiation period and the action period, regulate congressional action on
joint resolutions of disapproval under the Act. The third, which this report refers to as the waiting
period, affects the possible effective date of certain rules that the Act defines as “major.”
Each of the three time periods nominally runs for 60 days, and all run roughly concurrently.
However, the starting point of the initiation period may differ slightly from the others, and the
days of the three periods are counted in different ways. These differences (elaborated in the
following pages, but summarized below in Table 1) play a key role in determining how the Act
Table 1. Defining Elements of Principal Time Periods in the
Congressional Review Act
Initiation period Action period Waiting period
Action Resolution of disapproval must be Senate may consider “Major rule” cannot
prescribed submitted in order to be eligible for resolution of disapproval take effect
during period expedited consideration under expedited procedure
Period starts Rule is received by Congress Rule is received by Congress Rule is received by
when– and published in Federal Congress and published
Register in Federal Register
Days counted All calendar days except those on Only days on which the All calendar days
toward 60-day which either house is in an Senate is in session
limit adjournment of more than 3 days
5 On the rationale and provisions of expedited procedures generally, see CRS Report 98-888, "Fast-Track" or
Expedited Procedures: Their Purposes, Elements, and Implications, by Christopher M. Davis, and CRS Report
RL30599, Expedited Procedures in the House: Variations Enacted Into Law, by Christopher M. Davis.
6 Each house normally would make any such changes by adopting a simple resolution, which requires action in that
The Act also includes procedures governing final action to reconcile House and Senate action on
a disapproval resolution submitted and considered in accordance with the Act. These procedures
need not occur within the constraints of the time periods specified, and are not associated with
any provisions restricting the time at which they must occur.
Pursuant to other provisions of the Congressional Review Act, however, various actions by
Congress or the President can elaborate or alter the effect and application of these three basic time
• the sine die adjournment of a session can result in renewal of the initiation period
and action period;
• congressional action to defeat a disapproval resolution can result in termination
of the waiting period; and
• presidential veto of a disapproval resolution can bring about an additional
waiting period, whose extent may depend on subsequent congressional action in
relation to the veto.
The following sections address the operation of these subsidiary time restrictions as well as the
three basic ones.
Even in the absence of the Congressional Review Act, the general legislative powers of Congress
would presumably always allow passage of a bill or joint resolution overriding or abolishing a
rule or regulation promulgated pursuant to law by an executive branch agency. The effect of the
Congressional Review Act is simply to establish expedited procedures for congressional
consideration of a joint resolution accomplishing this end. The Act makes these expedited
procedures available to Congress if two conditions are met. First, a disapproval resolution may be
considered under the expedited procedure only if it is submitted during a specified initiation
period. Second, the Senate may consider the resolution under the expedited procedure only during
a specified action period. (As discussed later, the resolution must also conform to certain content
To be eligible for consideration under the terms of the Act, a disapproval resolution must be
submitted in either house within 60 days after Congress receives the rule. In contrast to both the
waiting period and the action period, recess days are excluded in calculating this initiation period.
Any day that either house is in adjournment during a recess of more than 3 days does not count 7
toward this time limit. Normally, in other words, weekend days will count toward the initiation
period, but district work periods will not.
7 U.S.C. Section 802(a).
The action period applies only to initial consideration in the Senate, because the Act establishes
no expedited procedures for initial House consideration. The Senate may use the expedited
procedures to complete initial consideration of a disapproval resolution only during the 60 days of
session following congressional receipt of the rule (and, if required, its publication in the Federal
Register). Any day on which the Senate does not meet does not count toward the time limit for 8
this action period.
The Congressional Review Act makes special provision for the action period and initiation period
if, within 60 days of session after a rule is submitted, Congress adjourns its session sine die.
Under these conditions, both periods start over again in the new session of Congress, beginning in th9
each house on the 15 day of session after Congress reconvenes.
This provision helps ensure that Congress will effectively have the full periods established by law
to act on a disapproval resolution under the expedited procedure. Absent this special provision,
the initiation period and action period might end up being split between two sessions of Congress,
so that in each session Congress would have less than 60 days to act. If a President submitted a
proposed rule shortly before a sine die adjournment, Congress might not find it feasible to
complete action on a disapproval resolution either in the time remaining before the end of the
session, or in the portion of the 60 days remaining at the start of the new session. Completing
action could be especially difficult when the new session was the first session of a new Congress,
for in that case the disapproval resolution would have to be submitted anew, and proceed through
all the stages of the legislative process from its start, in perhaps many fewer than 60 days.
Renewal of the full action period and initiation period in the new session is intended to prevent
Under the Administrative Procedure Act, a proposed rule may go into effect 30 days after its 10
promulgation in the Federal Register, unless the rule itself provides for a later date. The 11
Congressional Review Act alters this stipulation only for what it defines as “major rules.” In
general, a rule is “major” if the Office of Information and Regulatory Policy, in the Office of
Management and Budget (OMB), determines that it will have economic effects of a certain level 12
of significance. The Act provides no means for Congress to alter or override an executive
determination that a rule is or is not “major.”
8 U.S.C. Section 802(e).
9 U.S.C. Section 801(d). To be precise, for the House of Representatives the renewed initiation period occurs if the sine
die adjournment occurs less than 60 legislative days (rather than days of session) after the rule is submitted, and begins th
on the 15 legislative day of the new session. A legislative day ends each time the body adjourns. In practice,
legislative days and days of session in the House normally coincide.
10 The rule may also go into effect immediately if the agency finds “good cause.” 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3), 801(a)(4),
and 808(2). See Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, pp. 3-4.
11 5 U.S.C. Section 804(2).
12 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3) and 801(a)(4). See Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, pg. 2.
The Congressional Review Act provides that a “major rule” may not take effect until 60 calendar
days after the rule has been both published in the Federal Register and submitted to Congress
(unless the rule is one for which such publication is not required, in which case the 60 days 13
begins when the rule is simply submitted to Congress). The President may waive this additional
waiting period for a “major rule” if he determines that, for any of several stated reasons, more 14
expeditious implementation is necessary, and so notifies Congress. If he does so, the “major
rule” may go into effect subject only to the stipulations of the Administrative Procedure Act.
In sum, the 60-day waiting period established by the Congressional Review Act applies only to
“major rules” for which the President has not waived its application. Rules that are not “major,”
as well as “major rules” for which the President waives the additional waiting period, may take
effect, as provided by the Administrative Procedure Act, after 30 days, unless the rule itself
provides for a later date.
The waiting period for “major rules” is defined in calendar days. The action period and initiation
period are defined in ways dependent on the congressional schedule. As a result, the waiting
period will normally expire first, because its “clock” runs continuously without interruption. The
action period for the Senate normally will expire later, because its “clock” pauses on each day the
Senate does not meet. The initiation period normally will expire between the other two, because
when Congress does not meet, its “clock” sometimes runs (during breaks of three days or less)
and sometimes pauses (during more extended recesses).
For example, suppose that after a “major rule” is submitted and published, each house meets for 5
days a week, except for one recess of two weeks. The waiting period expires after 60 calendar
days. The recess extends the initiation period to 76 calendar days. The action period elapses only
at the rate of 5 days per week when the Senate is in session, and not at all during the recess. It 15
expires after 14 weeks, or 96 calendar days.
These differences have significant implications on how the disapproval procedure under the Act
may operate. Specifically:
• The initiation period and action period pause when Congress is not in session. As
a result, they cannot expire while Congress is out of session, and so cannot, by
the timing of their expiration, prevent congressional action under the expedited
procedures of the Act.
• The action period normally will continue after the initiation period ends. If any
disapproval resolution is submitted during the initiation period, some time will
13 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3).
14 5 U.S.C. Section 801(c). The stated reasons include threats to health and safety, criminal law enforcement, national
security, and implementation of trade agreements.
15 It is theoretically possible, however, that 60 days excluding recesses will outlast 60 days of session. A day on which
the Senate is in session and the House in recess counts as a day of the action period for the Senate, but not as a day of
the initiation period. If enough such days occur, the action period, of 60 days of session, could expire before the
initiation period, of 60 days excluding recesses. At that point, a disapproval resolution could still be submitted, yet the
expedited procedures could not be used for considering it.
normally remain in the action period, during which the Senate can consider the
resolution under the expedited procedures of the Act.
• The initiation period normally will expire before the action period does. If any
resolution is submitted after the initiation period expires, Congress will be unable
to consider it under the expedited procedures of the Act, even if the action period
has not expired.
• The presence of the waiting period means that Congress will normally have 60
days to use the expedited procedures of the Act to disapprove a “major rule”
before it becomes effective.
• Because the action period normally will continue after the waiting period ends
(and, by the same token, after the effective date of rules other than “major
rules”), Congress will normally retain the ability to use the expedited procedures
of the Act to disapprove a rule for some period after the rule has already gone
The following two sections pursue the implications of this last circumstance.
The opportunity for Congress to disapprove a rule that has already taken effect can arise in
several different ways. First, the rule may be a “major rule,” which normally may take effect
when the waiting period expires. In this case the action period for the Senate normally will 16
continue after the waiting period ends. The Senate remains able to act on a disapproval
resolution under the expedited procedure during the remainder of the action period.
Second, a rule that is not a “major rule” is not subject to the waiting period, and so may take
effect even earlier in the action period. During the remainder of the action period, the Senate has a
correspondingly longer window of opportunity to adopt a resolution, under the expedited
procedure, disapproving the rule that has already taken effect.
Third, Congress may adjourn sine die before the original action period expires. Both the action th
period and the initiation period begin anew with the 15 day of session in the following session of 17
Congress. The adjournment, however, does not extend either the waiting period for a “major
rule” or any other restriction on the effective date of a rule. The date when the rule takes effect is
unaffected by the sine die adjournment. In the new session, as a result, the procedures of the
Congressional Review Act remain available for Congress to disapprove the rule, even though the
rule may already have taken effect.
Finally, the Congressional Review Act explicitly contemplates that even after the action period
has terminated, Congress may still enact a joint resolution disapproving a rule pursuant to the Act.
For this purpose the disapproval resolution would have to have been submitted during the
initiation period, and would have to meet the content requirements of the Act.
16 The reverse could also be true, however, if Federal Register publication does not occur until well after the rule is
submitted to Congress.
17 5 U.S.C. Section 801(d) and 802(e). For the House, the new initiation period begins on the 15th legislative day of the
The Act also explicitly provides that if Congress enacts a resolution disapproving a rule that has
already taken effect, under any of the circumstances just described, the rule “shall be treated as 18
though [it] had never taken effect.” The intent seems to be that, in these cases, any
consequences the rule had already had would be undone retroactively. This stipulation applies
only to a disapproval resolution that was submitted, and received final action, in accordance with
the provisions of the Congressional Review Act. If Congress enacted a measure overriding or
abolishing a regulation through proceedings that did not meet the procedural requirements of the
Act, or in a form that did not meet the content requirements of the Act for a disapproval
resolution, it would not have this retroactive effect.
The Congressional Review Act establishes additional relations between the waiting period and
certain actions on a disapproval resolution. If either house rejects a disapproval resolution or 19
sustains a veto of one, the waiting period terminates immediately. On the other hand, if the
President vetoes a resolution to disapprove a “major rule” to which the waiting period applies, an
additional waiting period occurs, during which Congress may override the veto. This additional
waiting period is defined as 30 days of session (rather than calendar days, as for the initial waiting th
period). The Act does not specify how the end of the period is determined if the 30 day of 20
session in each house occurs on a different day.
Taking these additional provisions into account, the possible configurations of legislative action
and its consequences for “major rules” to which the waiting period applies comprise the
• No Congressional Action. If neither house of Congress acts on a disapproval
resolution during the original waiting period, the rule takes effect when that
period expires (or later, if so provided in accordance with the Administrative
Procedure Act or the terms of the rule itself).
• Rejection by Either House. If either house votes to reject the disapproval
resolution, the action presumably ensures that no disapproval resolution will pass
both chambers. At that point the waiting period is vitiated, and the rule may take
effect immediately (or later, if so required by the Administrative Procedure Act or 21
the rule itself).
• Passage by Both Houses; No Veto. If both houses pass the disapproval
resolution and the President does not veto it, the resolution becomes law, and the
rule becomes “of no force and effect” (whether or not the waiting period has 22
• Passage; Veto; No Attempt to Override. If both houses pass the disapproval
resolution and the President vetoes it, the receipt by Congress of the veto
message triggers the new waiting period of 30 days of session. If a vote on
18 5 U.S.C. Section 801(f).
19 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3) through 801(a)(5).
20 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3)(B).
21 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(5).
22 5 U.S.C. Section 801(e) and 802(a).
overriding the veto occurs in neither house, or in only one house, during this new
waiting period, the rule takes effect when the 30 days of session expire (or later, 23
if so required by other authorities).
• Passage; Veto Sustained by Either House. If either house votes to sustain the
veto, Congress can no longer override. At that point the additional 30-day waiting
period is vitiated, and the rule may take effect immediately (or later, if so 24
required by other authorities).
• Passage; Veto Overridden. If both houses override the veto, the disapproval
resolution becomes law, so that the rule becomes “of no force and effect.”
As already explained, it is possible that Congress could pass a resolution to disapprove a rule
during the action period, but after the rule has already taken effect. If the President then vetoed
the disapproval resolution, the rule would presumably be considered to remain in effect pending
congressional action on the veto. Under these circumstances, in other words, the additional
waiting period would presumably not occur. This interpretation seems consistent with the general
intent of the Congressional Review Act that a rule may be vitiated through congressional
disapproval even after it has already taken effect.
Under the Congressional Review Act, any agency submitting a covered rule to Congress must do
so in a report that also identifies the effective date and whether the rule is “major.” At the same
time, the agency must provide to each house and to the General Accounting Office (GAO) any
available cost-benefit analysis, as well as information about pertinent agency actions pursuant to
requirements of the Regulatory Flexibility Act and the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act. Each
house provides the report to the chair and ranking minority member of the committees with 25
jurisdiction. All this information is intended to afford Congress a basis for determining whether
to proceed with disapproval action while it is still early in the action period for the expedited
For major rules, within 15 calendar days of the rule’s submission or publication in the Federal
Register (whichever is later), GAO is to make a report to the committees of jurisdiction, assessing
compliance of the agency issuing the rule with the above reporting requirements. In practice, this
GAO report has not involved substantial additional analysis of agency actions, but has taken the 26
form of a simple checklist.
23 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3)(B)(ii).
24 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(3)(B)(i).
25 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(1)(B). Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, pp. 1-2.
26 5 U.S.C. Section 801(a)(1)(C). Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, p. 2-3.
The actual disapproval process under the Congressional Review Act begins when a Member of
either house submits a joint resolution of disapproval. Unlike some expedited procedure statutes,
the Act does not provide that the joint resolution be introduced either automatically, or by
specified Members, or at any specified time (except that it must be during the 60-day initiation
period if the resolution is to qualify for consideration under the terms of the Act). If no Members
wish to see a given regulation disapproved, no disapproval resolution need be submitted. In
practice, because the prescribed information is provided to committees of jurisdiction or their
leaders, it is leaders or other members of the committee who may be most likely to submit a
In each house, any disapproval resolution submitted is to be referred to the committee (or 27
committees) with jurisdiction. This step is consistent with the regular procedure in each
chamber, and will presumably take place in accordance with normal practice. House resolutions
may be referred to a primary committee and also to additional committees with jurisdictional
interests in the matter the rule addresses. Senate referrals will normally be to the committee
whose jurisdiction predominates in the subject matter.
To be eligible for consideration under the expedited procedures of the Congressional Review Act,
a disapproval resolution must follow a narrowly prescribed form. The text may only identify the
subject of the rule and the agency submitting it, and state that Congress disapproves the rule and 28
that it shall have no force or effect. These provisions appear to make the procedures of the Act
available only for joint resolutions to disapprove a submitted rule as a whole, so that the
expedited procedures of the Act could not be used to vitiate only certain provisions or portions of 29
a rule on a specified subject.
Under these standards, a resolution whose text includes any findings or other additional
provisions, for example, would be ineligible for consideration under the expedited procedure.
Nevertheless, the Congressional Review Act does not specify the contents of the disapproval
resolutions it governs as precisely as do some other expedited procedure statutes. For example,
although the Act stipulates the form of language for a disapproval resolution, it does not specify
the precise terms in which a rule must be described. As a result, resolutions might be submitted in
each chamber proposing to disapprove the same rule in different terms, raising the possibility that th
disapproval resolutions initially approved in the two chambers might not be identical. In the 107
Congress, for example, S.J.Res. 6 proposed to disapprove “the rule submitted by the Department
of Labor relating to ergonomics (published at 65 Federal Register 68261 (2000)),” while the
House companion measure, H.J.Res. 35, proposed to disapprove “the rule submitted by the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration on November 14, 2000 (65 Federal Register
27 5 U.S.C. Section 802(b).
28 5 U.S.C. Section 802(a).
29 See Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, pp. 10-12. Although some suggest that the language of
the Act might permit a resolution to disapprove only specified provisions of a rule, this position has not found broad
Again, the Act does not stipulate that the resolution must contain no preamble. Preambles are
uncommon in modern congressional practice, and when a resolution includes them, they are often
routinely stricken out at the conclusion of floor proceedings. Yet if either house did adopt a
disapproval resolution with a preamble, the resolution might again fail to be identical with a
companion measure from the other house. Similar problems might arise in any case in which the
two houses adopted resolutions disapproving the same rule, but with different texts. As described
later, for example, the Congressional Review Act prohibits amendment of a disapproval
resolution only in the Senate. In any case of this kind, no measure could go forward to the
President until both houses had agreed on a single version. A House-Senate conference or other
process for reaching this agreement might be unable to conclude within the time constraints of the
expedited procedure (or at all).
Many expedited procedures attempt to prevent this situation from arising, either by prescribing
the precise form of the measures covered, by forbidding amendment to those measures, or both.
The Act deals with this potential problem instead by the way it regulates the process, sometimes
called the “hookup,” by which a single vehicle is selected for further action after each house has
initially adopted its own measure. In addition, however, these problems are at bottom procedural
and technical, rather than substantive, and could usually be easily overcome if majorities in both
chambers wished to disapprove a rule. For example, Members might often prevent problems of
this kind from arising by informally coordinating their efforts, so as to ensure that disapproval
resolutions submitted in each house would share the same text.
If a disapproval resolution did not meet the content requirements of the Act, or if it were not
submitted during the initiation period, Congress could still consider it under its ordinary
procedures. If such a resolution were enacted, it would presumably suffice to put the regulation
disapproved out of effect. This action, however, apparently would not preclude the issuing agency
from proposing a “a new rule that is substantially the same” as the disapproved one. The Act
applies this prohibition only if the disapproval resolution both conforms to the content
requirements specified by the Act and was submitted during the initiation period. For this
prohibition to apply, on the other hand, the terms of the Act do not appear to require that the
Senate has considered the disapproval resolution either under the expedited procedures, or during 30
the action period.
For the stages of committee and initial floor consideration, the expedited procedures in the
Congressional Review Act apply to the Senate alone. First, the Act attempts to ensure that the
Senate will be able to act on the disapproval resolution whether or not the committee of referral
reports it. Regardless of when the resolution is introduced, a procedure to discharge the
committee from its consideration becomes available beginning 20 calendar days after the rule has
been both submitted to Congress and published in the Federal Register. If 30 Senators submit a
petition for the purpose, the measure is automatically discharged and placed on the calendar, from 31
which it may be called up for floor consideration.
30 5 U.S.C. Section 801(b).
31 5 U.S.C. Section 802(c). In a new session of Congress, the discharge procedure becomes available 20 calendar days
after the start of the renewed action period on the 15th day of session. 5 U.S.C. Section 801(d)(2)(A)(1). In the 107th
Congress, when the renewed action period began in the Senate on February 5, 2001, S.J.Res. 5, to disapprove the
ergonomics rule transmitted by the Department of Labor, was submitted on March 1, and the committee was
This provision appears to have no close analog among other Senate procedures. Expedited
procedure statutes more typically provide that after a specified time period, either the committee
is automatically discharged, or a motion to discharge it is privileged (meaning that the motion
could be offered on the floor by any Senator, and would not be debatable). By requiring the joint
action of 30 Senators, the Congressional Review Act makes discharge somewhat more difficult,
ensuring that it can occur only for a disapproval resolution that has significant Senate support.
At least in some cases, these features of the expedited procedure may leave the committee little
time to act on the disapproval resolution. For example, perhaps no Senator may wish to introduce
the resolution until after the Senate receives the GAO report on the rule. But this report may not
arrive until 15 calendar days after the rule is submitted, while the discharge procedure will
become available after 20 calendar days. The committee might then have 5 calendar days or
fewer to take up the resolution before it could be subjected to discharge. If no disapproval
resolution is submitted until the discharge procedure has already become available, the motion
might be offered even more closely after submission of the resolution.
If the committee of jurisdiction favors the disapproval resolution, it may mark up and report the
measure before the discharge procedure becomes available. It may also do so thereafter, as long
as the discharge procedure has not yet been used. Once the committee reports, it can no longer be
discharged, but the resolution goes to the calendar, and a motion to proceed to its consideration
can be offered.
The Congressional Review Act does not expressly forbid consideration of amendments in
committee, but it does prohibit amendments on the Senate floor. A committee can only
recommend amendments, which become part of the measure only if adopted on the floor. Because
the statute precludes the adoption of amendments on the floor, any recommended by the
committee will be moot. For this reason, the committee will in practice find little purpose in
acting on amendments to a disapproval resolution, and its markup will presumably consist only of
The committee might circumvent this restriction by reporting an amended version of the
disapproval resolution as an original measure, in lieu of the resolution referred. If the text of this
new measure met the statutory requirements for a disapproval resolution, and the committee acted
before expiration of the initiation period, the measure would presumably be eligible for expedited
consideration under the Congressional Review Act. At the same time, however, the resolution
initially submitted, not having been reported, would presumably also remain subject to the
expedited discharge procedure of the Act.
Under the procedure provided by the Congressional Review Act, once a disapproval resolution is 32
on the calendar in the Senate, a motion to proceed to consider it is in order. The general
procedure of the Senate already permits a motion to consider any measure on the calendar, but
discharged on March 5.
32 5 U.S.C. Section 802(d)(1).
only after it has met certain layover requirements. Inclusion of this special provision in the
expedited procedure has the effect of waiving these layover requirements.
The motion to consider is normally reserved to the Majority Leader, to whom the Senate, in
practice, accords responsibility for arranging the floor agenda. Nevertheless, by including the
motion explicitly in the expedited procedure, the Act emphasizes that the Senate, in principle, has
means of calling up the disapproval resolution, no matter what position the committee or
leadership take on it. As with any other measure, of course, a disapproval resolution could also be
brought up for consideration by unanimous consent, which would usually be obtained by the
Several provisions of the expedited procedure protect against various potential obstacles to the
Senate’s ability to take up a disapproval resolution. Some of these help ensure that the Senate will
be able to vote on a motion to proceed, once the motion is pending, by prohibiting:
• a motion to postpone its consideration;
• a motion to amend it (though Senate rules generally prohibit amendment of
motions to proceed anyway); or
• a motion to proceed to consider some other business (which would displace the
first motion to proceed).
Any points of order that might be raised against the measure or its consideration are waived as 33
well. Finally, if the motion to proceed is adopted, a motion to reconsider that action is
The Congressional Review Act omits one other provision that appears in many expedited
procedures for taking up resolutions of disapproval. The Act does not explicitly make the
disapproval resolution privileged. It is established Senate practice that a motion to proceed to
consider a matter is debatable (and, therefore, subject to filibuster) unless the matter in question is
privileged. Senate precedents, however, indicate that if a statute establishes a time limit for the
consideration of a specified measure, the provision has the effect of rendering the measure
privileged, so that a motion to proceed to its consideration is not debatable. Consistent with this
principle, the Senate has treated a motion to consider a disapproval resolution under the 34
Congressional Review Act as not debatable, even though the Act does not explicitly bar debate.
After the Senate takes up the disapproval resolution itself, a further series of provisions protects
the ability of the body to continue and complete that consideration. First, once the motion to
proceed is adopted, the resolution becomes “the unfinished business of the Senate until disposed
of,” and motions to proceed to consider other business, or to postpone consideration of the 35
resolution, are prohibited. Under these conditions other business may interrupt consideration of
33 The Act does not make explicit whether the waiver of points of order would apply against a point of order that a
resolution fails to meet the requirements for consideration under the expedited procedure.
34 “Motion to Proceed–S.J.Res. 6,” proceedings in the Senate, Congressional Record, daily edition, Vol. 147, March 6,
2001, p. S1831.
35 5 U.S.C. Section 802(d)(2).
the disapproval resolution only if the Senate gives unanimous consent. If the Senate does turn to
other business by unanimous consent, the disapproval resolution automatically recurs as pending
after the interruption, unless the unanimous consent agreement provides that the other business
displace the disapproval resolution as the unfinished business.
Second, it is not in order in the Senate, under the Act, to move to amend or recommit the
disapproval resolution. The Senate sometimes uses the motion to recommit in such a way as to
effect an amendment. These provisions therefore help to ensure that the Senate disapproval
resolution will remain identical, at least in substantive effect, to any House joint resolution
disapproving the same rule. This identity could be destroyed by House action on its own measure,
however, inasmuch as the Act includes no prohibition against House amendment of the measure
during committee or floor consideration. Also, some expedited procedures explicitly prohibit the
Senate from suspending a prohibition on amendment by unanimous consent, but no such
additional safeguard appears in the Congressional Review Act.
Third, Senate debate on the resolution is limited to 10 hours, equally divided between supporters
and opponents, so that no filibuster is possible on the resolution itself. In addition, the Act
provides that a motion may be offered to limit the time for debate further, and this motion itself is
not debatable. Any appeal from a ruling of the chair during consideration of a disapproval 36
resolution (or motion to proceed to its consideration) also is to be decided without debate. This
prohibition further inhibits any potential use of appeals for dilatory purposes, though this use is
already constrained by the overall cap on debate time. On the other hand, to forbid appeals
altogether would have tended to prevent the Senate from exercising its constitutional authority to
determine its own rules.
Finally, the Act provides that at the conclusion of debate, the Senate automatically proceeds to
vote on the resolution. No intervening action is permitted, except that one quorum call may take 37
place if any Senator so requests. This quorum call is not required; if not requested, the Senate is
to proceed immediately to vote. Absent this provision, however, it might become impossible to
stop the Senate from disposing of a disapproval resolution quickly, by voice vote, when few
Senators were on the floor. It might also become impossible to secure a roll call vote under these
conditions, because not enough Senators might be on the floor to second a demand for one. On
the other hand, if the Act did not prohibit other intervening actions at this point, those actions
might be used for dilatory purposes. For example, opponents might delay a vote by offering, and
obtaining roll call votes on, motions to table the resolution and to adjourn.
No measure can be presented to the President for approval until both houses have agreed to it in
identical form. If each house initially passes its own disapproval resolution, even if the texts are
identical, neither can yet go to the President, for neither has been agreed to by both chambers. To
prevent this situation, the Congressional Review Act provides that when either house adopts a
disapproval resolution and sends it to the other, the receiving house must hold it at the desk,
rather than refer it to committee. This action retains the received resolution in a status in which it
is available for floor action. The Act then provides that, after the receiving house later considers a
36 5 U.S.C. Section 802(d)(4).
37 5 U.S.C. Section 802(d)(3).
disapproval resolution of its own, it shall vote not on its own measure, but instead on the
resolution already received from the other house. In this way both houses take final action on the 38
same measure; if both adopt it, the requirements for presentation to the President are satisfied.
Unlike the components of the expedited procedure that apply to Senate consideration alone, these
provisions govern action whether or not the action period has expired.
In one respect, these proceedings reflect normal practice in both houses for carrying out a
“hookup” between corresponding House and Senate measures. Normally, each house initially
considers its own measure, but the house that acts second then takes up and passes the
corresponding measure already received from the other. If the two measures are not identical, the
house acting second normally amends the measure received from the other with the text of its
own measure. This action enables the two houses to proceed, by conference or otherwise, to
resolve the differences between these two versions of the same measure. The expedited procedure
of the Congressional Review Act avoids this necessity by requiring one chamber to vote directly
on the measure received from the other, without amending it.
It appears that these provisions of the Act would apply even if the texts of the two measures are
not identical, as long as the chair could determine that both would disapprove the same rule, and
that they therefore corresponded to each other for purposes of the statutory procedure. In this
way, even if the two houses initially consider disapproval resolutions with differing texts, both
will ultimately vote on the same text; namely, that approved by whichever house acted first. This
mechanism helps to prevent any delay that might arise if the House and Senate could not agree on
a final text through conference or amendments between the houses.
If both chambers adopt a disapproval resolution, the President might normally be expected to veto
it, because if his views were not favorable to the regulation in question, the agency would
probably not have submitted it to Congress in the first place. This consideration, however, may
not apply in situations in which the President under whose administration the rule was submitted
has been succeeded by another, who takes a contrary view of the regulatory issue in question. th
Congressional action on the ergonomics regulation in the 107 Congress exemplified such a
Except for the additional 30-day waiting period already described, however, the Congressional
Review Act provides no expedited procedure for overriding a veto. Consideration of veto
messages is generally considered privileged in both chambers pursuant to the requirements of the
Constitution. The procedures of neither house, however, require a vote on whether to override. In
the Senate, an attempt to reach such a vote might be delayed or blocked by filibuster. In other
respects, the normal procedures of each house probably would suffice to allow a majority that
wished an override vote to secure one.
38 5 U.S.C. Section 802(f).
Although the expedited procedures of the Congressional Review Act eliminate many of the
constraints on action inherent in the normal legislative process, the Act lacks certain provisions
found in many expedited procedure statutes. As the preceding discussion shows, these omissions
in certain respects limit the ability the Act confers on Congress to enact the disapproval
resolutions for which it provides.
These limitations may in practice present little obstacle to successful action. Nevertheless,
determining how the Act may most effectively be used may require taking them into account.
Among the special features described in the preceding sections, three appear potentially the most
noteworthy in this connection.
The expedited procedure in the Act covers committee and floor consideration of disapproval
resolutions only in the Senate. Committee and floor consideration in the House of Representatives
is to occur under its regular legislative procedures; the Act provides no special mechanisms to
help ensure that the House can complete action. In mitigation of this potential obstacle, the House
possesses well-established general means to expedite the consideration of measures, which can
readily be used for disapprovals under the Congressional Review Act if the leadership and the
pertinent committee are supportive.
Specifically, the House might likely consider a disapproval resolution pursuant to the terms of a
special rule. A special rule is a House resolution, which the Committee on Rules has jurisdiction
to report, making a specified measure in order and proposing terms for its consideration. In
particular, a special rule for considering a disapproval resolution might be expected to prohibit
amendment on the floor. (A special rule providing such a prohibition is often called a “closed
A joint resolution of disapproval, like any other proposed law, may be enacted only through being
presented to the President for approval. If Congress passes a joint resolution disapproving a
particular rule, a President who favors the rule can veto the measure. In that case the rule will take 39
effect, unless a two-thirds vote in each house overrides the veto.
Experience shows that particular circumstances may arise under which this requirement may
present little obstacle to congressional action. If, in the interim between promulgation of the rule
and congressional action, a new administration unsympathetic to the rule assumes office, any
disapproval resolution may not likely be vetoed in the first place. Congressional disapproval in
2001 of the ergonomics regulation proposed by the Clinton Administration in the previous year
illustrates this situation. At that time, substantial congressional interest was expressed in using the
Congressional Review Act to disapprove numerous other rules promulgated in the last months of
the Clinton Administration as well. Although this interest did not result in other legislative action,
39 Rosenberg, Congressional Review of Agency Rulemaking, pp. 9-10.
some of the regulations in question were withdrawn or suspended by the new Bush
The provisions of the Congressional Review Act for final congressional action on disapproval
resolutions presume that both houses will initially pass measures with substantively similar texts.
Yet the overall expedited procedures of the Act do not conclusively ensure:
• that substantively similar disapproval resolutions will be submitted in each
• that neither house will amend a disapproval resolution in a way that makes it
substantively dissimilar from the other, or otherwise ineligible for consideration
under the expedited procedures for final action; or
• that each house will take initial action on a disapproval resolution of its own.
Each of these possibilities might present a different kind of difficulty for achieving final
enactment. In practice, however, each kind of difficulty could likely be readily overcome when
majorities in both houses are supportive of the disapproval effort. Under most circumstances,
coordination of disapproval efforts between the two houses could suffice to avoid potential
The two houses might initially pass disapproval resolutions with different texts either because:
• the respective resolutions are initially introduced with different texts, or
• either chamber amends its resolution in the course of committee or floor
The House could amend a disapproval resolution because the procedure in the Act does not
prohibit amendment in that chamber. The Senate would be constrained in such action by the
prohibition on amendment contained in the expedited procedure, but might be able either to:
• suspend that prohibition by unanimous consent, or
• circumvent the prohibition by acting on a resolution reported from committee as
an original measure in lieu of one initially submitted.
None of these actions would necessarily prevent expeditious agreement of the two houses on one
of the two measures. As long as both measures, as passed, still met the requirements of the Act,
final action could undoubtedly occur through the procedures for hooking up the two measures
provided by the Act.
If either House succeeded in amending a disapproval resolution, the amended resolution might
cease to meet the statutory requirements for a measure to be considered under the expedited
procedure. For example, one house might amend the resolution to disapprove only part of the rule
in question, even though the Congressional Review Act is explicit in making its mechanism for
expedited disapproval applicable only to a rule as a whole. A disapproval resolution amended in
this way would apparently cease to fulfill the requirements for a disapproval resolution to be
eligible for the expedited procedure. When received in the other house, the amended resolution
would then fail to qualify for the automatic hookup for which the Act provides. Instead, the
second house could refer it to committee, which might either report it with or without
amendment, or take no action and effectively kill the measure.
Alternatively, the second house could use its regular procedures either to consider the amended
resolution it received, or to consider a measure of its own that it could then hook up with the one
received. The easiest way for supporters of disapproval to deal with this difficulty, however,
would be to forestall its arising by preventing or defeating any amendment that would have this
The Congressional Review Act also affords no procedure pursuant to which either house could
take up and adopt a disapproval resolution from the other, except after first considering one of its
own. Therefore, if a disapproval resolution is submitted only in one house, none can be enacted
under the expedited procedure. The house in which the resolution was submitted could adopt it
and send it to the other. The receiving house, however, could not act on the received resolution
under the expedited procedure, because that procedure provides for such action only after the
receiving house first considers its own measure.
The same difficulty could arise when disapproval resolutions are introduced in both houses, if, in
the House of Representatives, none is reported, or one is reported but not considered on the floor.
Because the Congressional Review Act provides no expedited committee or floor procedure in
the House, supporters of the disapproval resolution could not discharge the House committee, or
bring the measure to the House floor, except under the general rules, which normally leave
control in the hands of the committee and leadership. Therefore, the procedure in the Act would
still offer no means to bring the House to the point at which it could consider a companion
resolution received from the Senate.
This situation could be most readily forestalled if supporters of the disapproval effort ensure the
submission (as well as consideration and adoption) of corresponding disapproval resolutions in
both houses. Also, however, whether or not a companion measure had been submitted in the
receiving house, and whether or not the committee of referral in that house had reported the
measure or had been discharged from considering it, it would still be possible for the receiving
house to act, under its regular procedures, on the measure received from the other and held at the th
desk. In the 107 Congress, the House of Representatives took action in this way on S.J.Res. 6,
disapproving the ergonomics rule, while its companion measure, H.J.Res. 35, remained in
In the House, nevertheless, this end too could normally be achieved only with cooperation from
the leadership. In the Senate, considering the House measure without the constraints of the
expedited procedure would mean that it could be filibustered.
Finally, the enactment of a disapproval resolution would have the same effect whether it had been
considered under the expedited procedure provided by the Act or otherwise. As long as the
resolution had been submitted during the initiation period, and satisfied the description provided
in the Act, its enactment would render the disapproved rule without force and effect, and would
also prohibit the agency from issuing a “substantially similar” rule without subsequent legislative
Richard S. Beth
Specialist on the Congress and Legislative Process