Obama may reverse many Bush actions

Published: November 9, 2008  |  Source: courier-journal.com
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WASHINGTON — Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.

A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

“The kind of regulations they are looking at” are those imposed by Bush for “overtly political” reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama’s team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush’s appointees are rushing to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

A spokeswoman said yesterday that no plans for regulatory changes had been finalized. “Before he makes any decisions on potential executive or legislative actions, he will be conferring with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as interested groups,” Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said. “Any decisions would need to be discussed with his Cabinet nominees, none of whom have been selected yet.”

Still, the pre-election transition team, comprising mainly lawyers, has positioned the incoming president to move fast on high-priority items without waiting for Congress.

Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush’s controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases such as Parkinson’s. Bush’s August 2001 decision pleased religious conservatives who have moral objections to the use of cells from days-old human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.

But Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said that during Obama’s final swing through her state last month, she reminded him that because the restrictions were never included in legislation, Obama “can simply reverse them by executive order.” Obama, she said, “was very receptive to that.” Opponents of the restrictions have already drafted an executive order he could sign.

The new president also is expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

While Obama said at a news conference last week that his top priority would be to stimulate the economy and create jobs, his advisers say that focus will not delay key shifts in social and regulatory policies, including some that Obama has said will have long-term, beneficial impacts on the economy.

The president-elect has said, for example, that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration’s decision last December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. “Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer,” Obama said last January.

California had sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to require that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles be cut by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, effectively mandating that cars achieve a fuel economy standard of at least 36 miles per gallon within eight years. Seventeen other states had promised to adopt California’s rules, representing in total 45 percent of the nation’s automobile market. Environmentalists cheered the California initiative because it would stoke innovation that could benefit the entire country.

Despite pent-up Democratic frustration, Obama and his team realize they must strike a balance between undoing Bush actions and setting their own course, said Winnie Stachelberg, vice president for external affairs at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank .

“It took eight years to get into this mess, and it will take a long time to get out of it,” she said. “The next administration needs to look ahead. This transition team and the incoming administration gets that in a big way.”

By Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith
The Washington Post