Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Regulatory apocalypse?

There are a lot of bad things out there, but some of them are probably worse in terms of number of people affected. Global warming is probably worse than asbestos, avian flu is probably worse than Marburg virus. Not for the people affected, of course. Bush administration policies are like that, too. Pretty much all bad, especially for the people affected, but some are unbelievably bad-- bad like an avian flu pandemic is bad.

Consider the looming threat of the Sunset Commission, as highlighted by a chilling article in Rolling Stone by Osha Gray Davidson. Never heard of the Sunset Commission? You aren't alone.
If you've got something to hide in Washington, the best place to bury it is in the federal budget. The spending plan that President Bush submitted to Congress this year contains 2,000 pages that outline funding to safeguard the environment, protect workers from injury and death, crack down on securities fraud and ensure the safety of prescription drugs. But almost unnoticed in the budget, tucked away in a single paragraph, is a provision that could make every one of those protections a thing of the past.

The proposal, spelled out in three short sentences, would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the "Sunset Commission," which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not "producing results," in the eyes of the commission, would "automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them."
Like what kinds of federal programs?
[T]he commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners -- many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight -- the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.
Well, maybe it wouldn't be that bad. There's allegedly lots of waste in government programs and a Commission could get rid of it. Right?
The man behind the sunset commission is Clay Johnson, the most influential member of Bush's inner circle whom you've never heard of. The two Texans have been close friends since 1961, when they met as fifteen-year-olds at Andover prep school and later roomed together for four years at Yale. When Bush was elected governor of Texas in 1994, he put the buddy he calls "Big Man" -- Johnson is six feet four -- in charge of all state appointments. Johnson, a former executive at Neiman Marcus and Frito-Lay, refers to Americans as "customers" and is partial to Chamber of Commerce bromides such as "We're in the results business." He is also partial to giving corporate lobbyists a direct role in gutting regulatory protections. One of his first acts in Texas was to remove all three members of the state environmental-protection commission and replace them with a former Monsanto executive, an official with the Texas Beef Council and a lawyer for the oil industry. Overnight, a commission widely respected for its impartiality became a "revolving door between the industry lobby and government," says Jim Marston, the senior attorney in Texas for the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense.


Given its political gains last November, the administration is optimistic about winning approval in Congress. "The stars and the planets are aligned," Johnson recently declared, citing the solid Republican majority in Congress and the need to curb the soaring federal deficit.
So if the threat of a right-wing take over of the judiciary isn't scary enough for you, read Davidson's piece.

As I said, avian-flu-pandemic-bad.