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Lame duck President George W. Bush may be going but he’s far from gone.
Bush is papering the federal government with last-minue executive orders putting his stamp on everything he can and paying off debts to those who supported him during his controversial Presidency.
Outgoing Presidents often issue last minute rules that they not only hope will last long after they leave office but that will also not be immediately overturned by the incoming resident of the White House.
But Bush’s last-minute glut of rules goes far beyond what has been done by other departing Presidents and often stretches the boundries of what may or may not be legal.
It’s typical Bush and shows the outgoing President is not going quietly. He will be defiant to the end.
In a burst of activity meant to leave a lasting stamp on the federal government, the Bush White House in the past month has approved 61 new regulations on environmental, security, social and commercial matters that by its own estimate will have an economic impact exceeding $1.9 billion annually.
Some of the rules benefit key industries that have long had the administration’s ear, such as oil and gas companies, banks and farms. Others impose counterterrorism security requirements on importers and private aircraft owners.
The rules cover obscure as well as high-profile social and economic issues: spelling out what kinds of records must be kept by sexually explicit performers and publications, exempting hobbyists’ rocket motors from federal explosives controls, expanding the collection of DNA samples from federal prisoners.
In most cases, the new regulations are meant to spell out precisely how federal employees and private citizens must comply with laws passed by Congress. But the language in those laws often had ambiguities — reflecting lawmakers’ uncertainties or disagreements — that gave Bush’s appointees broad discretion to follow their policy preferences. Similar "midnight regulations" were approved by previous presidents.
The New York Times offers good information on Bush’s strategy:
The Labor Department is racing to complete a new rule, strenuously opposed by President-elect Barack Obama, that would make it much harder for the government to regulate toxic substances and hazardous chemicals to which workers are exposed on the job.
The rule, which has strong support from business groups, says that in assessing the risk from a particular substance, federal agencies should gather and analyze “industry-by-industry evidence” of employees’ exposure to it during their working lives. The proposal would, in many cases, add a step to the lengthy process of developing standards to protect workers’ health.
Public health officials and labor unions said the rule would delay needed protections for workers, resulting in additional deaths and illnesses.
With the economy tumbling and American troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, President Bush has promised to cooperate with Mr. Obama to make the transition “as smooth as possible.” But that has not stopped his administration from trying, in its final days, to cement in place a diverse array of new regulations.
The Labor Department proposal is one of about 20 highly contentious rules the Bush administration is planning to issue in its final weeks. The rules deal with issues as diverse as abortion, auto safety and the environment.
But Obama is not planning to sit back and let Bush get away with this. The Times report continues:
Mr. Obama and his advisers have already signaled their wariness of last-minute efforts by the Bush administration to embed its policies into the Code of Federal Regulations, a collection of rules having the force of law. The advisers have also said that Mr. Obama plans to look at a number of executive orders issued by Mr. Bush.
A new president can unilaterally reverse executive orders issued by his predecessors, as Mr. Bush and President Bill Clinton did in selected cases. But it is much more difficult for a new president to revoke or alter final regulations put in place by a predecessor. A new administration must solicit public comment and supply “a reasoned analysis” for such changes, as if it were issuing a new rule, the Supreme Court has said.