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The Edicts of Bush

Many things are not believed because their current explanation is not believed.

Nietzsche

One of the overlooked but frequently favored means for presidents to work their will without involving Congress is to issue regulations. George Bush has taken the art to new heights. Explaining his boss’s fondness for issuing regulations (that do not need Congressional approval) instead of proposing legislation (that does), White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, explained that the president’s practices “reflect the values of America. . . eliminating burdensome regulations to create jobs.”

Other administration people explain that going to Congress to effect changes would be too complicated. Thanks to this new efficient way of doing business all sorts of changes have been wrought by Mr. Bush which, appearing to do one thing, when explained are shown to do something quite different. That is, of course, the beauty of explanations-they cause things to be different from what they appear to be.

On April 13, 2002, the administration said it would block a rule published in the closing days of the Clinton administration requiring increased efficiency in new central air-conditioners by 30 per cent. It wanted the increase limited to only 20 percent. At the time the new regulation was announced, one of the folks in the department explained that this was not a “rollback” but rather an effort to make units more efficient. Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham explained that the poor would also benefit since the action would reduce the price of units costing between $2000 and $4000 by $123. A poor person who has just purchased a $4000 air conditioning unit will almost certainly take the $123 and apply it to food and rent. (Eighteen months after its promulgation a federal court said Mr. Bush lacked the authority to effect that kind of a change.)

On April 21, 2004, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published what appeared to be an anti-consumer rule providing that the automobile industry need not release warranty-claims information, industry reports on safety issues and consumer complaints. Without explanation this regulation would appear to be consumer-unfriendly and the reason for its existence unfathomable. The administration explained that if this information were released it would cause “substantial competitive harm.” That may be because giving the consumer knowledge that a particular model is unsafe or subject to lots of complaints might adversely affect sales of that model, resulting in less production, resulting in fewer sales, resulting in loss of jobs for workers and, finally, resulting in fewer dividends for shareholders, an altogether distressing scenario. What’s even worse is that competitors might take advantage of a competitor’s misfortune to sell more of their cars. Seen in that light the regulation makes excellent sense and enables manufacturers of poorly designed vehicles to remain competitive. .

Forest Service managers have been given the right to approve logging in federal forests without the usual environmental reviews. At first blush that smells fishy. The explanation deodorizes it. The administration explains that the rule would “better harmonize the environmental, social and economic benefits of America’s greatest natural resource, our forests and grasslands.”

When the Mine Safety and Health Administration published a new regulation diluting the rules intended to protect coal miners from black lung disease, the union said those rules were “extremely dangerous”. The administration explained “We are moving on toward more effective prevention of black-lung disease.” It didn’t say how.

Explanations can also soften action that might otherwise seem heartless. In a memo released the end of May Mr. Bush said that if reelected he would cut $1 billion from the Veterans Administration. His 2005 budget introduces a new annual $250 enrollment fee for veterans wanting access to the VA’s health care system, doubles the prescription drug copays from $7 to $15 for middle-income veterans and includes only a 1.8 percent increase in veterans’ medical care funding. Commenting on the proposals Edward Banas Sr., the leader of the Veterans of Foreign Wars called the increase in funding a disgrace and a sham.” He said: “This deplorable budget will do nothing to alleviate the many thousands of veterans who are waiting six months or more for basic health care appointments with VA. . . . . We are adamantly opposed to charging veterans an enrollment fee and we are opposed to increasing payments that veterans make for prescriptions and for other health care services. . . . They have already paid for their health care with their sweat and with their blood. . . . .”

In remarks make over the Memorial Day weekend Mr. Bush showed he was not heartless explaining: “We acknowledge the debt [we owe veterans] by showing our respect and gratitude.” The bestowal of respect and gratitude on the needy instead of money has long been favored by the rich. Mr. Bush is simply the most recent public figure carrying on this grand tradition.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at: brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

 

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