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With Vote to Kill Guidance Against Racist Auto Lending, Senate GOP Takes War on Regulations to 'Vicious' New Level

"This may end up being the most vicious hardball escalation and norm-breaking of Trump's first two years."

Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks as Senate Majority Whip Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) listen during a news briefing after a weekly Senate Republican Policy Luncheon at the Capitol November 28, 2017 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

In a "precedent-shattering" 51-47 vote on Wednesday that could set the stage for the GOP to kill a slew of longstanding consumer and environmental regulations, Senate Republicans—joined by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)—approved a measure to repeal a 2013 CFPB guidance aimed at protecting minorities from auto lending discrimination.

"The CRA never was intended to be used against older, settled rules. Today's Senate vote sets a dangerous deregulatory precedent that stretches the CRA far beyond its original intent."
—Amit Narang, Public Citizen

"Apparently the Senate majority is more interested in helping vulnerable incumbents raise campaign cash from the powerful and well-heeled auto lobby than in protecting consumers who are being charged more for car loans based on the color of their skin," Amit Narang, regulatory policy advocate at Public Citizen, said in a statement following the vote.

While the GOP and President Donald Trump have been working tirelessly to dismantle a wide variety of regulations since taking full control of the federal government last year, the measure approved by the Senate on Wednesday was characterized as uniquely dangerous because it uses the Congressional Review Act (CRA)—a law intended to allow Congress to repeal new rules only "within 60 legislative days of their enactment"—to roll back a five-year-old guidance.

"The CRA never was intended to be used against older, settled rules," Narang explains. "Today's Senate vote sets a dangerous deregulatory precedent that stretches the CRA far beyond its original intent, allowing Congress to overturn regulatory protections that have been in place for years or even decades [and] opening up a new front in the right's war on regulations."

According to a Politico report published Tuesday, that is precisely what the GOP-controlled Congress is aiming to do.

Because policy guidances like the one the Senate voted to roll back on Wednesday are not submitted to lawmakers like formal rules, the 60-day clock to repeal them using the CRA technically never starts.

Republicans believe that if they can "retroactively" determine a guidance meets the legal definition of a rule, they can start the 60-day clock and proceed to repeal the guidance with a simple majority using the CRA.

"This may end up being the most vicious hardball escalation and norm-breaking of Trump's first two years," Mike Konczal, a fellow at the Roosevelt Institute, said of the GOP's "bad faith" legal maneuvering. "Courts shouldn't buy this hardball."

As Politico reports, other Republican lawmakers are beginning to "test the waters" to see what other long-standing regulations they can kill.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), for instance, is looking to overturn the Bureau of Land Management's 2016 Eastern Interior Resource Management Plan, which protects some of Alaska's "most remote and pristine public land" from oil and gas exploitation.

"Expanding the power of the CRA to overturn guidance from decades ago will threaten protections hardworking families rely on, making it harder for middle class Americans to get ahead and responsible businesses to follow the law," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) concluded in an interview with Politico on Tuesday.

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