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Under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), before any federal agency’s rule can take effect, the agency must submit the rule to Congress. The CRA’s definition of “rule” borrows largely from Section 551 of the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), which defines a rule as:

"the whole or part of an agency statement of general or particular applicability and future effect designed to implement, interpret, or prescribe law or policy or describing the organization, procedure, or practice requirements of an agency."

This broad definition includes regulations adopted after notice-and-comment rulemaking as well as less formal agency actions, like guidance documents. The CRA excludes from this definition three categories of agency actions: rules “of particular applicability,” rules “relating to agency management or personnel,” and “any rule of agency organization, procedure, or practice that does not substantially affect the rights or obligations of non-agency parties.” In addition, the CRA does not apply to “rules that concern monetary policy proposed or implemented by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System or the Federal Open Market Committee” (the Fed or Federal Reserve). But the CRA captures other Federal Reserve rules.

When an agency submits a rule to Congress, it must also state whether the rule is “major.” Designating a rule as major serves primarily a procedural purpose: The CRA provides Congress with fast-track procedures to adopt a joint resolution disapproving any rule and gives Congress more time to disapprove a “major” rule than a “non-major” rule.

But the designation also neatly divides all agency rules into the two distinct categories of “major” and “non-major.” The statute says that a rule is major if it has resulted in or is likely to result in:

(A) an annual effect on the economy of $100 million or more;

(B) a major increase in costs or prices for consumers, individual industries, Federal, State, or local government agencies, or geographic regions; or

(C) significant adverse effects on competition, employment, investment, productivity, innovation, or on the ability of United States-based enterprises to compete with foreign-based enterprises in domestic and export markets.

Rules can satisfy the $100 million threshold for myriad reasons, “including because they involve compliance costs, result in transfers of funds, prompt consumer spending, establish user fees, or result in cost savings for consumers and taxpayers.”

To give some context, agencies issue roughly 3,000 to 4,500 rules each year, only 50 to 120 of which are major. These major rules often include an administration’s most important regulatory initiatives. At a minimum, they include an administration’s most economically impactful rules.