|January 31, 2007|
||An Unsafe America|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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An Unsafe America
Since day one, the Bush White House has attempted to tighten its grip on executive agencies in an effort to assert business interests over the public welfare. The consequences for American workers have often been tragic, with unsafe workplaces and an unclean environment. On Jan. 18, President Bush took another giant step away from the best interests of the American public by quietly issuing amendments to Executive Order 12866. These directives will “give the White House much greater control over the rules and policy statements that the government develops to protect public health, safety, the environment, civil rights and privacy.” Columbia Law School professor Peter L. Strauss said the executive order “achieves a major increase in White House control over domestic government. … Having lost control of Congress, the president is doing what he can to increase his control of the executive branch.”
CENTRALIZING EXECUTIVE POWER: President Bush’s Jan. 18 directive attempts to further increase the power of OMB over federal agencies. Agencies develop rules — regulating everything from clean water to hazardous workplaces — “under authority granted to them in laws enacted by Congress. In many cases, the statute does not say precisely what agencies should do, giving them considerable latitude in interpreting the law and developing regulations.” The new rules take power from expert civil servants and put it in the hands of political appointees. Each agency is now required to have a presidentially-appointed Regulatory Policy Officer responsible for supervising and approving new agency rules, as well as making “sure the agencies carry out the president’s priorities.” Additionally, in the past, each agency developed rules after identifying threats to public health and safety. The new Bush administration rules will require each agency to identify a “market failure” before issuing regulations, which OMB Watch notes “decidedly favors the regulated community and places yet another hurdle for agencies to issue regulations in pursuit of protecting the public.”
ATTACKING AMERICANS’ HEALTH AND SAFETY: While Bush’s directives will apply to all federal agencies, “business executives and consumer advocates said the administration was particularly concerned about rules and guidance issued by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” Wesley P. Warren of the Natural Resources Defense Council said, “The executive order is a backdoor attempt to prevent E.P.A. from being able to enforce environmental safeguards that keep cancer-causing chemicals and other pollutants out of the air and water.” Throughout its administration, the Bush administration has meddled into the work of the EPA and OSHA, preventing them from protecting public safety. Last year, a federal judge sharply criticized EPA “for pursuing industry-friendly regulations at the same time it missed statutory deadlines to control toxic air pollution from small industrial plants.” The Washington Post noted that in the first three and a half years of the Bush administration, OSHA — “the branch of the Labor Department in charge of workers’ well-being” — eliminated “nearly five times as many pending standards” as it completed. In his first year in office, Bush tried “to eliminate nearly 100 of the agency’s 2,400 jobs. … Lawmakers restored the money and the positions. The next year, the administration succeeded in eliminating 10 jobs out of 95 in the standards area.” The Center for American Progress has more on Bush’s record here.
DOWNHILL ON DAY ONE: The Bush administration made weakening public safety a priority from day one. On the day Bush was sworn in, then Chief of Staff Andrew Card “issued a memo that, in an unprecedented move, put a two-month freeze on final rules across the government that had not yet gone into effect.” A few months later, John Graham, then the White House’s top regulatory official, “was alerting agencies that they would face closer scrutiny from the OMB when they proposed new rules. The day after he was confirmed by the Senate, he sent the first of 14 letters to agencies saying they had failed to prove the need for regulations they had proposed. That was more than had been sent during Clinton’s eight years.” Sally Katzen, who oversaw federal regulation for five years under President Clinton, said “new regulations were, in those days, embraced as a means to improve the quality of water, of air — in short, of people’s lives.” In contrast, Graham called regulations “a form of unfunded mandate that the federal government imposes on the private sector or on state or local governments.”
DEADLY CONSEQUENCES: Bush’s executive order is more than just an insider bureaucratic maneuver. It has real — and potentially deadly — consequences for all Americans. Regulations protect Americans’ everyday lives. In 2001, Bush put the interests of businesses over the interests of American workers and repealed “Clinton administration regulations that set new workplace ergonomic rules to combat repetitive stress injuries.” Bush justified his move by stating that the benefits of the ergonomic rules had “uncertain benefits,” but would have “cost both large and small employers billions of dollars and presented employers with overwhelming compliance challenges.” OSHA estimated that the overturned rules would “would have generated benefits of $9.1 billion a year for each of its first 10 years, and would have prevented 460,000 musculoskelatal disorders a year.” Last year, the Sago mine explosion, which killed 12 men, shook the nation. Mining deaths reached a 10-year high in 2006, calling attention to the Bush administration’s neglect of safety regulations. A report by the AFL-CIO noted that the administration cut 170 positions from the federal Mine Safety and Health Administration and had not proposed a single new mine-safety standard or rule during its tenure. For his 2000 presidential bid, Bush received $275,000 from West Virginia coal firms.
AN ANTI-REGULATORY ZEALOT: Bush’s newest executive order bears the fingerprints of Susan Dudley, senior advisor to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). The OIRA is an obscure, but “super-powerful office that oversees many business regulations.” The conservative 109th Congress blocked her nomination. Bush appointed Dudley as senior advisor one day after he renominated her, which OMB Watch notes is “a slap in the face to bipartisanship” because it allows her to serve in a position similar to the post for which she was nominated, but without congressional approval. In a primer on regulation written in 2005, “while she was at the Mercatus Center of George Mason University in Northern Virginia, Ms. Dudley said that government regulation was generally not warranted ‘in the absence of a significant market failure.’” Also, while she was at the industry-backed Mercatus, Dudley opposed regulating airbags in cars (preferring to leave public safety decisions “to the marketplace“), arsenic in drinking water (claming that there “is a wide range of uncertainty in the science surrounding the health effects of arsenic in U.S. drinking water supplies”), and health standards for protecting the public from smog. Write to your lawmakers and tell them to oppose Dudley’s nomination.
SCIENCE — NEW SURVEY FINDS POLITICAL INTERFERENCE INTO WORK OF GOVERNMENT CLIMATE SCIENTISTS: Yesterday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing to discuss the Bush administration’s interference with the work of government climate scientists. As evidence of the pressure scientists have experienced, the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Government Accountability Project presented a report documenting 435 instances in which the Bush administration interfered into the global warming work of government scientists over the past five years. Nearly half — 46 percent — of government scientists “personally experienced pressure to eliminate the words ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming,’ or other similar terms from a variety of communications.” The same percentage said they “perceived or personally experienced new or unusual administrative requirements that impair climate-related work.” Thirty-eight percent “perceived or personally experienced the disappearance or unusual delay of websites, reports, or other science-based materials relating to climate.” And, 25 percent “perceived or personally experienced situations in which scientists have actively objected to, resigned from, or removed themselves from a project because of pressure to change scientific findings.” “Political interference is harming federal science and threatening the health and safety of Americans,” said Francesca Grifo, senior scientist and director of scientific integrity program for the Union of Concerned Scientists. Grifo added that nearly 700 scientists, or 39 percent of respondents, feared retaliation for openly expressing their concerns.
MINIMUM WAGE — SENATE MULTIMILLIONAIRES VOTE TO BLOCK WAGE HIKE: After repeated delays by conservatives, the Senate voted 87-10 yesterday to end debate on legislation that will raise the minimum wage for the first time in a decade, from $5.15 to $7.25. The bill is expected to move to a full vote in the next several days. Ten conservative senators stuck together and voted to further delay raising the minimum wage. As ThinkProgress detailed in a report last year, at least two of those 10 senators — Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) — are multimillionaires with a combined fortune of up to $35.5 million. In financial statements, Gregg shows holdings of between $3,402,000 and $10,055,000, including between $1,000,000 and $5,000,000 in Fleet Bank stock, while Isakson shows holdings of between $7,631,000 and $25,515,000, including millions in Georgia real estate. Despite their enormous personal wealth, they refuse to grant even a small raise to the nearly 8 million Americans who live on $5.15 an hour.
IRAQ — NEW AUDIT REVEALS LONG-LASTING PROBLEMS WITH RECONSTRUCTION: In a new report to be unveiled today, Stuart Bowen, the U.S. special inspector general for Iraqi reconstruction, details how “millions of dollars in US rebuilding funds have been wasted in Iraq” and “casts doubt on Iraq’s ability to maintain the reconstruction projects that have been completed.” Among the wide-ranging findings, “the audit says that corruption continues to plague Iraq and infrastructure security remains vulnerable.” Bowen’s findings show “major flaws” with how facilities have been built that all have “common roots: The government’s failure to monitor how contractors were spending taxpayer money.” Specifically, the report details how the State Department “paid $43.8 million to contractor DynCorp International for the residential camp for police training personnel…that has stood empty for months. About $4.2 million of the money was improperly spent on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size pool.” U.S. officials spent another $36.4 million on weapons and body armor that “can’t be accounted for.” “Too often, the administration has failed to learn from its mistakes in Iraq, wasting billions in taxpayer dollars,” Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) said recently. “We should not make the same mistake ourselves.”
Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller testified yesterday against the administration official she previously spent 85 days in jail trying to shield. Miller told the jury that “Scooter” Libby was “very irritated and angry” during a June 2003 conversation when he revealed to her that Valerie Plame worked at the CIA.
After months of ethics scandals, Rep. Gary Miller (R-CA) was chosen this month “as the ranking member of a panel charged with investigating financial institutions — even as the FBI was looking into his land deals.” The Hill reports that FBI officials have contacted local officials about Miller’s land deals in the last two months.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) goes ad hominem on Al Gore. “Al Gore thinks he can use climate change and global warming — he thinks that’s his ticket to the White House,” Inhofe said yesterday at a Senate hearing on climate change.
Michael McConnell — Bush’s nominee to be the nation’s new spy chief — works as a $2 million-a-year private consultant with some of the same senior military and intelligence officials he would supervise as director of national intelligence. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said he would raise concerns about McConnell’s ethical entanglements. “I made it clear that I was going to be asking questions about issues relating to his work with contractors.”
Congressional leaders agreed yesterday to a $463 billion spending plan for the remainder of the current fiscal year. The spending bill was stripped “of all earmarks, or narrow, special-interest provisions.” “They really delivered on their promise to wipe out earmarks,” said Richard Kogan, a federal budget expert at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
The Air Force is “preparing for an expanded role in Iraq that could include aggressive new tactics designed to deter Iranian assistance to Iraqi militants,” including “more forceful patrols by Air Force and Navy fighter planes along the Iran-Iraq border to counter the smuggling of bomb supplies from Iran.”
Today, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who “has been held in government custody for more than five years” as an enemy combatant, will plead his case before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. “Analysts say the dispute may ultimately wind up in the US Supreme Court with a potential landmark ruling on a key question: What rights does a noncitizen legal resident have when the government names him an enemy combatant?”
And finally: The head of the World Bank can’t afford new socks? The Associated Press caught a glimpse of Paul Wolfowitz “with holes on his socks” at a mosque in Turkey. Check out the photo montage here.