NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Precedents For A Regulatory Moratorium

January 19, 2001

Among George W. Bush's first acts as President may be a moratorium on publication of new rules in the Federal Register -- thereby short-circuiting some of Bill Clinton's final official actions.

In his final days in office, Clinton rushed through executive orders setting in motion a panoply of new regulations not requiring congressional approval. Just yesterday, for instance, Clinton's Department of Health and Human Services announced 870 pages of new rules offering so-called patients' rights protections to those enrolled in managed care programs under Medicaid -- alarming health maintenance organization executives across the U.S.

The new president would have ample precedent if he moved to try to block implementation of the new rules.

  • Clinton, like Ronald Reagan before him, issued such a moratorium upon taking office.
  • Near the end of his term, President Bush issued an executive order implementing the Supreme Court's 1988 Beck decision -- which allows workers to get a refund of union dues spent on political activities with which they disagree -- and the incoming Clinton promptly rescinded the order.
  • Now former President Bush's son is under heavy pressure to issue his own executive order restoring his father's instructions.
  • The Clinton orders that hang in the balance range from the designation of some parcels of land as national monuments to the definition of federalism that Clinton crafted in 1999.

A regulatory moratorium would block late Clinton action that hadn't yet been published in the Federal Register -- which generally occurs within a week after regulations are ordered.

But because some regulations -- such as those on ergonomics and federal contracting -- have already been published, changing or reversing them would require the new administration to pursue a more complicated roll back process that could take three to five years.

Source: Jeanne Cummings and Tom Hamburger, "Bush Could Move to Wipe Out Clinton's Final Actions," Wall Street Journal, January 19, 2001.

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