Lame Duck Heeds the Quacks of Lobbyists: Pushes Final Changes

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Like the eye of some monstrous storm, the Thanksgiving season has come, promising some kind of respite from the terrible news in the financial sector, the worse news of the opaque nature of the bailout and the fact that it’s boom-time for the repo business. We can take a break, watch football, stuff our faces and forget about the world for a second.
All of us can even be thankful for a president-elect who seems capable of deep thought and the ability to understand complex problems. Most of us can also be thankful that we don’t have a mortgage that is crumbling beneath our feet. And those of us operating highly-polluting power plants, unsustainable ocean fisheries, mountaintop strip mines and anti-democratic lobbying companies in Washington can be thankful that the Bush administration is still in office until Jan. 20.
Bureaucrats and partisan hacks have been scrambling in the waning days of the Bush administration to dismantle regulations and write new rules for a number of industry groups, rules that, once in effect, will be next to impossible to undo. While rushing through (de)regulations at the end of a term is not unprecedented (the Clinton administration took the tactic to new heights), the Bush administration is notable for its organized push here at the end to systematically undermine regulations governing our health, the viability of world fisheries and even those “snow-capped” mountains.
Everything from “the mountains, to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam” will get a little less song-worthy if the policies go through. Even regulations in the financial sector, now recognized as a necessity to prevent risk and the kind of recession/depression that we are in now (and which will continue) are coming under attack from the White House. The administration apparently didn’t get the memo about kindness during the holiday season.
Among the 90 or so new rules that Americans will never get to vote on, nor have our elected representatives vote on, are the following: tighter restrictions on family and medical leave for government employees, the management of oil spills, heightened levels of noxious gas emissions allowed at the nations dirtiest power plants, easing restrictions on mountain-top mining, allowing for further exploitation of endangered coastal fisheries, relaxing drinking-water standards and generally making the world a dirtier, more unsafe and unpleasant place for people to live in, which seems to fit right in with the administration’s motivating principal for the last eight years.
Indeed, the administration has said that it just “wants to finish what it started,” which is a reference to either its policy initiatives or to the willful destruction of the world economy. It’s sometimes difficult to tell the difference. And while we might hope that an Obama administration will overturn these rules or stop them before they can go into effect, there is little that the new administration can do without a long, complicated and politically-fraught regulatory proceeding.
This, of course, is what should happen all the time, with public comment and mandated reanalysis — not just when one wants to repeal regulations, but when one wants to craft them as well. A more democratic, transparent process might stop these kinds of soul-crushing policies from going through, but we shouldn’t hold our breath waiting for unelected policy-makers to give back power.
That being said, the policies are good for some people, such as those businesses and lobbying interests that have crafted policy and have run the show during the entire length of the Bush administration. Not to mention those people at the top of industries that do not want to be forced to adapt to new realities in energy, pollution and competition in the world market. And don’t forget the anti-democratic forces representing industry in Washington that lobby for yet further deregulation and a process sealed from public debate and input. Health insurance companies that want to continue denying the claims of their poor policy holders will have happy holidays.
All these people can have an even nicer Thanksgiving, praising the Bush administration and the sham of a democratic process that allows them to thrive. The rest of us, however, will have to content ourselves with giving thanks to the existence of hope, however fleeting, and to the very unknowable possibility of the future. There might not be much turkey in it, but maybe someone will leave us some left-overs.

Brock Cutler is a graduate student in the history department. He can be reached at bcutler@uci.edu.

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