Obama to be Fast Out of the Gate on Bush Reversals?

FountainPen.jpgNew presidents promise or hint at many things which they can’t personally deliver without the support of Congress, the courts, foreign leaders or the American people in general. In fact, outside of starting (or ending) wars, hosting huge parties or granting the odd pardon here and there, the list of things the Oval Office occupant can do in single handed fashion is fairly limited. The one exception to this rule, however, is the Presidential Executive Order. (You can take a tour of all the orders signed by George W. Bush here.) According to this report from the Washington Post, Barack Obama may be poised to get busy with that fountain pen and make some big changes in his first days in office.

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.

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.

It should be noted that members of the transition team are not being pinned down to specific orders to be signed right off the bat, but a list of expected actions is provided. Here are a few of the highlights.

Embryonic Stem Cell Research: Obama has proved a crafty and canny politician, so frankly I’m surprised he would want to jump into that particular pool of quicksand on day one, but I suppose anything is possible. Debate is still raging in the scientific community over how necessary this research is as compared to emerging and competing forms of science using other types of stem cells, along with questions as to how much President Bush’s restrictions really slowed the process down. More to the point, though, is the fact that this issue is intentionally designed to stir up the abortion debate. Thanks to a failing economy and a secondary focus on two wars and foreign policy issues, Obama managed to skate through most of Election 08 without having to wrestle that particular octopus to the ground. Moving immediately on it could send a signal of wanting to poke a stick in the eye of hard Right Christian conservative who are already frothing mad about his election, at precisely the time he’s supposed to be bringing the country together.

The Global Abortion Gag Order: This one goes pretty much hand in hand with the first item.

The new president is also 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. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.

Much like the stem cell issue, this one is bound to enrage the far Right, but given the makeup of Obama’s base and the fact that the policy was successfully employed during the Clinton years, I doubt he’ll try to duck out of this one.

California Auto Emission Standards: President Bush stopped California from obtaining an exception which would have allowed them to limit automobile greenhouse gas emissions beyond national restrictions over the next eight years. Obama is expected to reverse that decision and approve the exception. This will go over quite well with his more progressive base and I expect him to sign off on this. The blowback might be greater than anticipated, though. Such orders may place even more pressure on an auto industry already begging for another bailout and the result may be more expensive cars in California. If this comes at a time of spiraling job losses and tight consumer wallets, the intent may be something everyone wants but the results could prove a net negative.

Many of George W. Bush’s critics coined the term The Imperial Presidency in anger over his interpretation of Executive power and his wide ranging use of instruments such as signing statements and Executive Orders. It will be interesting to see how these critics react if the newly minted President Obama avails himself of these same powers to swerve the government’s direction the opposite way.

  • JSpencer

    My impression of Obama is not of a person who will be afraid to act because he might anger a group of critics whose views of science are often based on fear and misunderstanding. I expect his detracters to continue being vocal regardless of what he does or doesn’t do, and they will be spurred on by charismatic fools and pundits whose livings depend on whipping up emotional reaction. I think Obama sees this is a time for courage and action, and not a time for tip toeing around people who are afraid of their own shadows.

  • Lit3Bolt


    Obama clearly is taking a play from George W’s book on this. I thought of it as “Outrage Fatigue.” Simply, quickly move on a bunch of political issues, one after another, leaving the press and the minority party at a loss of which issue to address. Best of all, you spend little to no political capital. It’s an amazing tactic that has served the Republicans well in the past, and I’m eager to see it turned against them.

  • Ricorun

    The WaPo article indicates that the kind of regulations Obama is looking at are those imposed by Bush for “overtly political” reasons. So I don’t see where reversing them necessarily implies Obama aspires to an Imperial Presidency.

    With specific regard to stem cell research, I don’t think I’d characterize the debate within the scientific community over how necessary this research is as “raging”. My impression is that the consensus among experts in the field is fairly broad that the research is important, and that the restrictions are a severe impediment. Moreover, both houses of congress passed bills to lift the ban by comfortable margins — just not comfortable enough to override Bush’s veto.

  • kritt11

    The stem cell bill was one in which 70% disagreed with Bush, and the other issues were overreach by the Bush administration, who had the worst environmental record in recent memory, and whose abstinence only programs were notoriously ineffective

    . I think most Americans would welcome a reverse on these policies, but I think Obama knows that he got elected to help the middle-class withstand the effects of the severe economic downturn that we are presently in.

  • FBW

    An open letter to David Plouffe

    First and second, congratulations and thank you. You masterminded the best campaign in history for a man I have the highest hopes for.

    I imagine you are not done yet. I am sure that you will have something to say about the inauguration speech, and that is the subject of this letter.

    JFK’s best line in his inauguration speech was arguably “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country” This dovetails quite nicely with Obama’s theme that this was our campaign, and is our victory. What must be said in this most important speech is what we the people must do to help our country. The American people are willing to be told in no uncertain terms what we must do, and in my humble opinion need to be told so.

    Economic recovery, which we all want, needs to be put into our hands in small deeds that we can all achieve. This recovery is obviously not just bailing out Wall Street and banks. It isn’t just about shoring up Ford and GM. Granted all that is important. But, this speech must give us clear and decisive ways for each American to assist those efforts, not just tell us what the government plans to do.

    Economic recovery is a spider web of interconnecting possibilities and needs. One thread of this web is to stop sending billions of dollars overseas for oil. To get back to a superior economic status in the world we need to be energy independent. Obama has made the promise that if elected he will make us energy independent in ten years. We need to know how we the people can help make it happen ourselves. We want know what we can start doing now and not wait for the molasses to flow from Washington. Some ideas follow.

    Combine the idea of shoring up the auto industry with federal loans to retool so that “Detroit” is building not only the most energy efficient cars in the world but that they are building only extremely energy efficient cars. In the speech Americans should be asked to start demanding this type of car the next time they are in the market, settle for nothing less. They should also be told to start to demand that the content of these vehicles be American made. As you probably know David, an “American” made car will probably have a transmission from Japan, and alternator made in Mexico, and so on. We need those jobs back in the USA as a part of our recovery, and Barack can ask us to demand that as well. Yes, the bailout money to Detroit could and should demand higher American made content in vehicles, but is up to we the people to buy cars truly made by American labor, our new President should tell us that.

    Energy independence also will require going green. The speech should encourage all of us to do things like solar installations on our homes wherever possible. The government can aid us by helping green power startups and providing tax breaks for us to purchase the systems. Not everyone can go solar, but the speech should tell consumers to start demanding that the energy grid in America be fed by renewable sources and lobby their representatives to find a way to make this possible.

    In short, I hope that in this speech our new President puts the impetus on we the people. It should be a matter of patriotism to work every day in our own small way to get our economy growing again. Barack must inspire us with definite tasks that we can do for our country. Don’t leave us wondering what we can do. Tell us. Then help us.

  • AustinRoth

    I would love to see the stem cell EO rescinded, and am OK with the abortion one. I think careful consideration should be given to the California emissions one, though. The auto industry is a vital part of the US economy, and is reeling at this moment. Opening the specter of potentially 50 different emission standards, some of which could be in complete conflict with each other, would not be a wise political move.

    And I have never completely been a fan of EO’s anyway. I know the arguments, but I still cannot shake the feeling that they are an end around to to Congressional duties and responsibilities. So the less, the better.

  • JWeidner

    Hey Austin, I’m ca CA resident (no idea if you are) and I wouldn’t necessarily mind the emissions order being rescinded, even if it leads to higher auto prices. But my thoughts lately had been running along the lines of FBW.

    We know that congress will help the auto industry. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are going to want to see the US automakers fall into bankruptcy. But if we’re going to bail them out anyway, why NOT make the funds contingent on a massive push to develop *affordable* alternative fuel automobiles? I’m excited about the prospect of a hydrogen-powered auto. But if the resulting cars are insanely expensive (as I believe the limited number being produced currently are) why not offer the automakers the money they need to keep operating, but with a caveat that they need to begin development and production on affordable solutions?

    To my mind, I’d rather see something along those lines, instead of “here’s the money you need to stay afloat, please spend wisely!”

  • StockBoySF

    I agree with JSpencer: “My impression of Obama is not of a person who will be afraid to act because he might anger a group of critics whose views of science are often based on fear and misunderstanding. I expect his detracters to continue being vocal regardless of what he does or doesn’t do…”

    Many of these critics are the same people who are now sporting “Obama is not my president” insignia…. While I expect Obama to reach out to them and gain their input on new issues I think it is another matter entirely when decisions about abortion, stem cell research, etc. have been made for purely political reasons and only to pander to a minority of the population (the religious right). If there has been strong bipartisan support in the past on these issues, but Bush used his veto power to block them, then I think Obama is right to examine these issues and reverse these policies.

    If Obama does reverse these policies, I’d love to hear how he presents the decisions to the American people. No doubt he will acknowledge the religious dilemma but will sell on the merits of the particular issue. What I don’t know is whether or not he will mention that these are “Bush” issues and say something like, “now is the time to move forward” and acknowledge the political aspects. Obama will not tie these past decisions (at least for abortion and stem cell research) to “Republicans”. Bush, as we’ve seen the past eight years, has tied everthing he disagrees with to Democrats and has divided the country into two camps on these issues. If I had a nickel for everytime Bush said, “Democrats in Congress….” I could take a year long cruise. Obama, during his campaign, has not divided the country into these overly-simplified camps and there is no reason to believe he will start once he takes office.

  • StockBoySF

    On the auto industry…. part of me wants to say, “Let them go rot, they got themselves into this mess.” But of course the automakers are a vital part of the American economy making government intervention essential.

    The reason I’m inclined to let them go rot is because for years the automakers have resisted regulation (sound familiar) and have wanted lower emissions standards and lower mpg standards. The reason why Japanese cars are fairing better is because of their higher mpg standards. As far as I’m concerned the auto makers wanted a quick buck rather than develop a long term strategy that would reduce our dependence on foreign oil and safeguard the environment.

    Since many “Japanese” (meaning foreign in general) are made in the US, I hope that any tax benefits (or other benefits) that are put in place for American companies can be made to any foreign company which creates jobs (not just auto) in the US. With our low dollar exports from the US to many other countries should be attractive to companies (less to produce these goods in the US and export).

  • DaveA

    I am okay with the first two for sure.

    But allowing for various (CARB) restricitons in addition to the US federal ones is killing many branches of alternate fuel vehcile produciton that could be done now, and it is just flat stupid. I can go to many foreign lands and buy a smallish diesel pickup that gets 30mpg, or a small car that gets 50-60mpg realtively cheaply. In the USA? Don’t make me laugh. if its not in the mold of Prius it is not easy to make happen at a reasonable price point. All due to the costs of special emissions rules designed to fit all combustion types into one straight jacket. The rules for CNG vehicles are similarly problematic in terms of regulations. Both are compelling alternatives to all electric future, but the difference is they can be had now and start making a difference now too if the barriers were not set so high. Bascially, we are letting the perfect be the enemy of the good here.

  • cheerfuldave

    It is a sad picture of things to come if Obama intends to reinstate federal funding of human embryo farms and abortion ships within hours of assuming office.

    It is bad enough to have so little regard for young human life yet alone make killing them an immediate priority.

  • websmith

    The first thing that Obama should review is the power granted to his office by the Constitution. Bush, along with the Senate and Congress, lived in a state of denial that one exists. We have had more than enough of this.

    There is nothing in the Constitution that allows the federal government to prevent drilling or mining anywhere or to set emission standards. There is nothing in the Constitution that prevents the states from banning mining and drilling within their borders or to set emission standards.

    If you are concerned about drilling, mining, or emissions, contact your state legislature.


  • StockBoySF

    websmith, I think the federal government can prevent drilling on federal lands (or water). I also believe that setting emissions standards should be a matter of public health and the health of the environment. Obama said that he doesn’t believe the federal government is the solution to our problems, but should intervene where the people can not. Clearly that applies to emission standards. Industry, which is in the business of making profits, won’t self-regulate. If you want to leave a dead world to future generations that’s your belief, but I and millions of others will fight you on this.

  • StockBoySF

    I agree with the general vein of DaveA…. the type(s) of fuels and other standards we want to have on cars is complicated. We need a cohesive and long term strategy to address the issue. I don’t have a solution, since it’s such a big issue and touches on so many other things in our society.

  • websmith

    The federal government is not supposed to own land or anything else. Article 8 spells out the powers of the government and the 10th Amendment assigns all other powers to the states and/or the people. The federal government does not have the right to regulate business in any way. The federal government has the right to step in when regulations by the sovereign states become oppressive or abusive to our rights.

    The first thing that Obama should do is review the powers given to the office of the President by the Constitution. Clinton, Bush, the Senate and Congress have lived in a state of denial that a Constitution exists for far too long resulting in national disasters that should have been state problems.

    The states and the people have the power to solve any problem with business that they run into.