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First in a Series:
Domestic Policy

First in the Series: Domestic Policy

Second in the Series: Education Policy

Third in the Series: Environment Policy

Fourth in the Series: Economic Policy


Page One: Saturday, August 14, 2004
Discovery Times Video: Page One: Saturday, August 14, 2004
Calculating the Costs of New Regulation
Graphic: Calculating the Costs of New Regulation
. Graphic: Regulatory Proposals



Law and Legislation

Bush, George W

United States Politics and Government

Out of Spotlight, Bush Overhauls U.S. Regulations


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.

"There's been more federal regulations, more regulatory notices, than previous administrations," said Trent Duffy, a White House spokesman, though he attributed much of that to the new rules dealing with domestic security.

Scott McClellan, the chief White House spokesman, said of the changes, "The president's common-sense policies reflect the values of America, whether it is cracking down on corporate wrongdoing or eliminating burdensome regulations to create jobs."

Some leaders of advocacy groups argue that the public preoccupation with war and terrorism has allowed the administration to push through changes that otherwise would have provoked an outcry. Carl Pope, the executive director of the Sierra Club, says he does not think the administration could have succeeded in rewriting so many environmental rules, for example, if the public's attention had not been focused on national security issues.

"The effect of the administration's concentration on war and terror has been to prevent the public from focusing on these issues," Mr. Pope said. "Now, when I hold focus groups with the general public and tell them what has been done, they exclaim, 'How could this have happened without me knowing about it?' "

The administration has often been stymied in its efforts to pass major domestic initiatives in Congress. Even when both houses have been under Republican control, Senate Democrats, using parliamentary rules, have been able to block legislation eagerly sought by the White House and business groups, including bills on energy, bankruptcy and medical malpractice. So officials have turned to regulatory change.

Chad Colton, a spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget, which approves all new regulations, defends the administration's handling of new rules, saying: "The process is very open, very transparent. Some regulations we post get hundreds of comments, even thousands." Mr. Colton acknowledged that most comments came from industry or from public interest groups. "But those groups represent consumers."

Clarence Ditlow, who directs one of those public interest groups, the Center for Auto Safety, said: "People in my line of work are frustrated. We try to work harder. But the amount of media attention and public attention to consumer issues has gone way, way down since 9/11."

Stuart M. Butler, senior domestic policy analyst for the conservative Heritage Foundation, while agreeing that the wars "push a lot of other issues off the page, literally and figuratively," said, "It cuts both ways." The White House "also can't get traction on issues they care about, like Social Security reform, because of all the noise from the war in Iraq."

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