Monday, August 16, 2004

 

Reason Enough

This from the The New York Times is reason enough not to vote for Mr. Bush.

Out of Spotlight, Bush Overhauls U.S. Regulations

JOEL BRINKLEY
Published: August 14, 2004

WASHINGTON, Aug. 13 - April 21 was an unusually violent day in Iraq; 68 people died in a car bombing in Basra, among them 23 children. As the news went from bad to worse, President Bush took a tough line, vowing to a group of journalists, "We're not going to cut and run while I'm in the Oval Office."

On the same day, deep within the turgid pages of the Federal Register, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a regulation that would forbid the public release of some data relating to unsafe motor vehicles, saying that publicizing the information would cause "substantial competitive harm" to manufacturers.

As soon as the rule was published, consumer groups yelped in complaint, while the government responded that it was trying to balance the interests of consumers with the competitive needs of business. But hardly anyone else noticed, and that was hardly an isolated case.

Allies and critics of the Bush administration agree that the Sept. 11 attacks, the war in Afghanistan and the war in Iraq have preoccupied the public, overshadowing an important element of the president's agenda: new regulatory initiatives. Health rules, environmental regulations, energy initiatives, worker-safety standards and product-safety disclosure policies have been modified in ways that often please business and industry leaders while dismaying interest groups representing consumers, workers, drivers, medical patients, the elderly and many others.

And most of it was done through regulation, not law - lowering the profile of the actions. The administration can write or revise regulations largely on its own, while Congress must pass laws. For that reason, most modern-day presidents have pursued much of their agendas through regulation. But administration officials acknowledge that Mr. Bush has been particularly aggressive in using this strategy.

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A Pro-Business Tilt

The overall regulatory record shows that the Bush administration has heeded the interests of business and industry. Like the Reagan administration, which made regulatory reform a priority, officials under Mr. Bush have introduced new rules to ease or dismantle existing regulations they see as cumbersome. Some analysts argue that the Bush administration has introduced rules favoring industry with a dedication unmatched in modern times.

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But examples of countervailing, business-friendly changes abound, some that broke through the flak thrown up from the wars, and others that remain little known.

The administration, at the request of lumber and paper companies, gave Forest Service managers the right to approve logging in federal forests without the usual environmental reviews. A Forest Service official explained that the new rule was intended "to better harmonize the environmental, social and economic benefits of America's greatest natural resource, our forests and grasslands."

In March of 2003, the Mine Safety and Health Administration published a proposed new regulation that would dilute the rules intended to protect coal miners from black-lung disease. The mine workers union called the new rules "extremely dangerous," while a mine safety administration official contended, "We are moving on toward more effective prevention of black-lung disease."

In May 2003, the Bush administration dropped a proposed rule that would have required hospitals to install facilities to protect workers against tuberculosis. Hospitals and other industry groups had lobbied against the change, saying that it would be costly and that existing regulations would accomplish many of the same aims.

But workers unions and public health officials argued that the number of tuberculosis cases had risen in 20 states and that the same precautions that were to have been put into place for tuberculosis would also have been effective against SARS.

The next month, the Department of Labor, responding to complaints from industry, dropped a rule that required employers to keep a record of employees' ergonomic injuries. Labor unions complained that without the reporting, it would be difficult to identify dangerous workplaces. But the department, in a statement, argued that the records "would not provide additional information useful to identifying possible causes or methods to prevent injury."

The administration's 2004 budget proposed to cut 77 enforcement and related positions from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, while adding two new staff members whose jobs would be to help industry comply with agency rules. Labor Secretary Elaine L. Chao explained to a House committee that the agency would "continue to target inspections based on the worst hazards and the most dangerous workplaces." As the budget proposal was announced, President Bush and other senior officials focused most of their remarks on the large increases proposed for defense and domestic security.



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