Bush & Co. Preach the Gospel of Deregulation

Big Government?—Shrinking the federal bureaucracy has been a major target—and touted claim—of the Bush administration. But it turns out that their real objective is to rig government.

As the president put it last month in what the Wall Street Journal dubbed “the Bushism of the week”: “Let me put it to you bluntly. In a changing world, we want more people to have control over your life.”

The Bush administration is doing its corporate contributors big favors by quietly easing or deleting government rules designed to save lives and protect the environment, and replacing them with slacker regulations contrived by the corporate interests that profit from them.

Deregulation is an ideologically partisan phenomenon that goes on virtually unnoticed—and usually unreported—by the press. One reason for this is that most of the rule changes are tucked away in thousands of pages of the Federal Register, in tiny, unreadable print.

All that is finally getting some belated media attention. In our September 1 FYI we noted the lengthy New York Times report (August 9) on how the former corporate executives who now run the Interior Department have been helping the coal industry by easing environmental controls on strip mining, and how others, at the Labor Department, have been weakening the health-and-safety rules that protect underground coal miners.

Following that came a page-one series in the Washington Post (August 15-17) whose opening-day headline was: “Bush Forces a Shift in Regulatory Thrust.” This major report revealed how “the Bush administration has used the regulatory process to redirect the course of government.” It should be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.

The Post series began with an exposé of the Labor Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration—known here as OSHA. It is now headed by John Henshaw, a Bush-appointed former executive at worker-risky, regulation-hating chemical manufacturing companies. Among OSHA’s hidden atrocities was the cancellation of a Clinton administration proposal to strengthen tuberculosis-protection rules shielding 5 million health care employees from exposure to TB.

The next Post disclosure was that other Bush deregulators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have dumped controls on the health-threatening agricultural herbicide atrazine which has been banned by the European Union.

Then came the Post‘s exposure of how the Interior Department and the EPA had changed a few words in the federal strip-mine regulations supposed to control mountaintop removal. The spreading and environment-wrecking industry allows “valley fills” of the millions of tons of peeled-off rocky waste that are bulldozed off to expose coal seams.

Before the Times and Post got going, the Wall Street Journal (July 16, 2004) discovered, and front-paged, a story on a little-known Washington think tank called the Mercatus Center, which got a sweeping number of its deregulatory targets onto the White House hit list, including allowing free logging in national forests.

Last month we learned that the Bushites at the Labor Department have also retinkered the New Deal-era overtime pay rules. The 66-year-old rules have been restructured to suit corporate personnel managers. Labor Department officials claim the complicated new regime will guarantee time-and-a-half overtime pay to 1.3 million workers who earn less than $23,660 a year for a 40-hour week. But labor unions and even some former Labor Department officials say the changes could deny overtime pay to 50 million workers.

Then came the discovery that some Bush-controlled federal agencies are proposing a drastic change in banking regulation that would let a thousand small banks cancel their regulatory obligations to help financing community development.

While deregulation is multiplying, the State Department is tightening things up. Under pressure from anti-Castro hard-liners in the White House, the Bush-controlled State Department has put in place the tightest restriction in decades on Cuban-American visits to see relatives in Cuba. They are now to be allowed only one brief trip to Cuba every three years, and the new rule severely limits the Yankee money they can spend when they get there.