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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The clock began running out this week on a strategy that has provided U.S. Republicans in Congress with their only notable legislative successes this year: aggressive use of an obscure U.S. law known as the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
On his 75th day in power, President Donald Trump has yet to offer any major legislation or win passage of a bill he favors, but House of Representatives Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy has notched numerous small-scale victories with his strategy.
Vice President Mike Pence told business leaders at the White House on Tuesday that Trump would sign more CRA resolutions soon and roll back an "avalanche of red tape" from the administration of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
Since Trump took office on Jan. 20, McCarthy has led Congress in churning out 13 resolutions under the CRA killing Obama-era regulations, most of concern to business interests.
Trump has signed 11 of these into law, not only rolling back the rules they targeted but also barring agencies from writing "substantially similar" regulations in the future.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Tuesday the number of resolutions signed over two months showed Trump is "vastly different" from past presidents in rolling back regulations.
On Monday Trump signed a CRA resolution repealing broadband privacy protections. He has also signed resolutions killing rules meant to expand background checks for mentally ill gun purchasers, change public school assessments, and reduce coal waste runoff into streams.
Last Friday was the deadline for introducing any new CRA resolutions on regulations enacted by Obama's administration. Now Republicans must complete voting on resolutions already in the legislative pipeline by mid-May.
Democrats assail the reversals as harming the environment, education and checks on Wall Street, with many saying the regulations were killed in order to please big-money lobbyists.
Representative Louise Slaughter, the senior Democrat on the Rules Committee that sends resolutions to the House floor for votes, said in an interview "of course it benefits the lobbyists."
But she said fumbles around healthcare and tax reform also pushed CRA resolutions to the fore.
"Partly I think it’s because they don’t have anything else to do," she said about Republicans' eagerness. "Other than that I think it's just another 'take that Obama.'"
McCarthy, a Californian and the No. 2 House Republican, saw the CRA's potential before the election. Written in 1996 and successfully used only once before 2017, the law was originally meant to restore the balance of power between Congress and the federal bureaucracy. But lobbyists and lawmakers recognized it could be used as a policy weapon, if the stars aligned.
Under the law, resolutions only need simple majorities in each chamber to go on for the president's signature. So one party must control both the legislative and executive branches for it to work. The law sets a short time span for introducing disapproval resolutions: 60 legislative days after a regulation is finalized, meaning it can only be used right after a president of an opposing party leaves office.
The stars aligned on Nov. 8, when Republicans captured the White House, Senate and House. For weeks Republican lawmakers bombarded McCarthy with lists of regulations to repeal and lobbying groups laid plans. The first disapproval resolutions were introduced on Jan. 30.
Right after the election, McCarthy told his party to "go through each regulation on our priority list," he said.
"If you look at Article One of the Constitution, this isn’t the role of these agencies. The agencies have become too big," McCarthy said in an interview with Reuters.
The first resolutions sailed through, primarily because Republicans had opposed the regulations long before they were finalized. McCarthy said so many lawmakers objected to the stream pollution rule that wiping it off the books was easy.
Even though the CRA effort is winding down, McCarthy's brief campaign showed that aggressive use of the law could succeed, and provided Republicans with some modest, but needed successes in a time when they are struggling with larger matters.
"After years of talk about cutting red tape, it is now actually happening," House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Tuesday. "We are reversing the Obama administration’s most recent and last regulatory onslaught."
Additional reporting by David Shepardson and Doina Chiacu; Editing by Kevin Drawbaugh and Grant McCool