Democrats Eye Bush Midnight Regulations

(By Keith Bendis -- Bloomberg News)
By Cindy Skrzycki
Tuesday, November 11, 2008

As President-elect Barack Obama's transition team prepares for the Jan. 20 inauguration, it is tracking the "midnight" regulations being churned out in the final days of the Bush administration.

Regulatory policy may not have as high a profile as economic issues and foreign policy for Obama. Still, many of these latter-day Bush rules are flash points for liberal public-interest groups, Democrats in Congress and the business community.

Among the regulations being monitored are a proposal to end a ban on carrying loaded guns in national parks, a plan that could make it harder for women to get federally funded reproductive health care, and a Labor Department proposal to change the way regulators assess risk for jobs, especially those that expose workers to chemicals.

"These are the ones worth watching," said Matt Madia, regulatory policy analyst at OMB Watch, a nonprofit group critical of many Bush regulatory policies. "Most of them relax existing requirements. They make it easier for industries to pollute or deny a worker medical leaves."

Some 130 rules could be completed before Bush leaves. The White House has finished reviews of 100 rules since Sept. 1, up from 36 in the same period last year. Representatives of chemical makers, scallop fishermen and kidney dialysis companies are among those who have pressed their cases with White House officials in recent weeks, according to a public list of the meetings.

The new president may issue executive orders to reverse some Bush policies and may get help from a law passed by the Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 to review and eliminate Clinton-era rules it didn't like. The law has been successfully used once, in 2001, to kill a rule designed to prevent repetitive motion injuries in the workplace.

The same day President Bush was inaugurated in 2001, Andrew Card, who was the White House chief of staff, issued an order blocking Clinton regulations that hadn't taken effect. Ninety final rules had their effective dates delayed, according to a 2002 General Accounting Office report.

To avoid a similar fate when Obama takes office, Bush regulators issued a call for what could be called 11 o'clock regulations. In May, White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten told agencies that except in "extraordinary circumstances," they should propose rules by June 1 so final versions could be issued by Nov. 1.

That gave them time to take effect before Obama is sworn in. Final rules often are challenged in court. Congressional Democrats say they are being vigilant. On Halloween, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California issued a list of "Ghoulish Midnight Regulations'' -- 11 Bush rules that involve changes in laws governing such issues as air pollution limits, disability rights, Medicaid reimbursement and how long truck drivers can be on the road.

"This is just a sampling," Nadeam Elshami, a Pelosi spokesman, said of the list. "We are talking to committee chairs on how to stop or reverse them."

One possibility is blocking funding. Another is the law Republicans aimed at Clinton rules.

With a Democratic Congress and president, the stars are lined up to meet the complicated procedural deadlines of the Congressional Review Act. Rules issued after mid-May potentially would be eligible to be disapproved during the next session of Congress.

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