7. TRASHING FEDERAL REGULATIONS FOR PROFIT
Sources: The Nation 72 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10011 Date: March
23, 1992 Title: "Bush's Regulatory Chill: Immoral, Illegal, and
Deadly," Authors: Christine Triano and Nancy Watzman; The Progressive,
409 E. Main Street Madison, WI 53703, Date: May 1992, Title: "Deregulatory
Creep," Author: Arthur E. Rowse
SYNOPSIS: In his State of the Union address on January 28, 1992,
President George Bush declared a 90-day "moratorium" on new
federal regulations as a way to help the economy out of the recession
that began in the summer of 1990.
Shortly thereafter, Public Citizen and OMB Watch compiled a list of
affected regulations. Some of them would have done the following:
1. Prevented worker exposure to toxic chemicals: a 90-day delay could
cost an estimated 289 workers' lives.
2. Forced manufacturers and hospitals to report adverse effects associated
with medical devices to the FDA; would keep the public up to date
on hazards such as those associated with silicone breast implants.
3. Prevented a replay of the S&L fiasco: a regulation pending
at the FDIC would require banks, not the taxpayers, to pay for their
4. Protected farm workers from exposure to dangerous pesticides.
By optimistic White House calculations, deregulation could save consumers
up to $20 billion a year, but the public sees it differently. In fact,
polls show the general public firmly opposes deregulation of business,
especially when the purity of air, water, food, drugs and other necessities
is involved. One survey shows that people rated "reduced safety
and environmental regulations" last among 16 ways of helping the
economy. Professional economists are also skeptical.
Well then, given no viable political or economic reason, what inspired
the Bush administration to pursue deregulation so zealously? Consider
these coincidences between contributions to the Bush-Quayle campaign/Republican
National Committee and some federal decisions:
Developers contribute $2,277,490: wetland protection acreage reduced.
Food industry contributes $1,352,000: nutrition guidelines pulled
back; nutrition labeling delayed a year.
Oil and gas industry contributes $1,150,360: stripper-well fees reduced;
rules on natural gas usage relaxed; limits on hazardous air blocked.
Air polluters contribute $788,270: emission standards delayed.
Insurance industry contributes $450,000: product-liability limits
Airlines contribute $315,700: limits on noisy engines reduced.
Pharmaceutical industry contributes $185,002: drug-approval process
speeded up; "orphan drug" competition bill vetoed.
Auto industry contributes $156,250: proposal for gas-tank canister
dropped; stricter auto efficiency opposed.
Investigative writer Arthur E. Rowse says that when Public Citizen's
Congress Watch cited the coincidence between the auto/petroleum contributions
and the regulatory concessions, the news was ignored by the Washington
Post, the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. And when OMB Watch
pointed out how many workers could die if workplace rules were delayed,
leading reporters yawned.
The benefits of coincidental contributions and deregulation were not
lost on George Bush. On April 29, he extended his original 90-day moratorium
on new federal regulations for another 120 days.
SSU Censored Researcher: Beverly Alexander
COMMENTS: While the press has come to recognize the detrimental
impact of deregulation on our financial institutions, particularly on
savings and loans, it has yet to recognize a similar impact on other
parts of society. Were it not for watchdog groups, such as Public Citizen
and OMB Watch, and the nation's alternative press -- in this case The
Nation and The Progressive -- it is doubtful anyone would be aware of
the Bush/Quayle deregulatory quid pro quo program.
Investigative authors Christine Triano of OMB Watch and Nancy Watzman
of Public Citizen report:
"President Bush's moratorium on federal regulation -- which started
as a 90-day freeze, was then extended for another 90 days, and finally
extended for an entire year -- received only scattered media coverage,
and most of that in the print media. Network television didn't cover
it, falling back on the excuse that the topic of federal regulation
didn't make 'good pictures.'
"When the media did report on the moratorium, they tended to rely
heavily on White House sources that did not provide complete information
on the topic. There was also a tendency to cover just a small piece
of the moratorium -- for example, to write a story about one particular
environmental regulation that was stalled. Few reporters were willing
to dig through the administration's doublespeak to find out how the
moratorium was damaging health, safety and environmental regulations
overall, at all the federal agencies. When Public Citizen and OMB Watch
set out to answer that very question, they found themselves pretty much
alone in the effort.
"President Bush's announcement of the rule freeze during his 1992
State of the Union address consisted of just a couple of sentences in
a long speech. He followed up with a memo to federal agency heads, giving
instructions about how to carry out the moratorium, but those memos
were not for general release to the public.
"Given the dearth of media attention to the rule freeze, it was
terribly difficult for a curious citizen to obtain any substantive information
about the moratorium. Yet the moratorium had very real effects on programs
that the American public cares about. The victims of delay or weakening
included nutrition-labeling regulations for meat and poultry, nursing
home safety enforcement regulations, and a pesticide record-keeping
requirement designed to help minimize danger from spills and other accidents.
If the public had had more information about this sort of moratorium
caused damage, there would have been a groundswell of concern about
it -- and perhaps Congress more strongly would have felt the mandate
to do something about it.
"The mainstream media's limited coverage of the regulatory moratorium
was based on more than the fact that regulation is a less than sexy
issue. Uncovering the links between corporate America, campaign finance,
and the startling consolid-ation of power in the executive branch is
a near impossible task.
"Bush's rules-freeze neatly illustrates how the Bush and Reagan
administrations have paid back their corporate supporters over the past
twelve years by doling out regulatory favors. While these supporters
no doubt enjoyed the benefits of the media's limited coverage of the
moratorium, it is the Bush administration whose interests were overwhelmingly
served by keeping the public from too closely scrutinizing its actions.
By proclaiming the moratorium at various times a recession-buster, a
boost for small business and a shot to overzealous regulators, Bush
successfully managed to divert most others from calling it what it really
was: an election year sop to big-business contributors.
"Bush's regulatory moratorium was extended several times after
our article was published, the last time being at the Republican convention
in Houston, when Bush pledged to extend it for another year if elected.
In various cases where the freeze was challenged, federal agencies were
found to have improperly delayed vital consumer and environmental protections.
Still, the exact toll of calling the federal regulatory agencies to
a halt for nearly 12 months is yet to be fully assessed."
Author Arthur Rowse, whose article appeared in The Progressive, says
that wider reporting of the quid pro quo between deregulation and campaign
financing would bring direct benefits to many people by exposing the
efforts of the Bush/Quayle administration, and the Reagan administration
before it, to impede the implementation of federal laws affecting health
"Such attention would also better alert the public to how campaign
funds are traded for political favors, would build public pressure for
making campaign laws more democratic, and would force elected officials
to respond better to general public interests.
"Poor coverage of these topics directly benefits wealthy special
interests including large media firms -- that already control the government
and the country, no matter which political party is in power. The poorer
the coverage, the greater the success of such groups in grabbing special
privileges, a process that would be defeated by exposure. With media
firms more and more occupied with maximizing profits rather than maximizing
coverage, it may not be long before democracy and freedom -- including
press freedom -- will be weakened to the point of no return."
Rowse feels that federal regulation is still a "journalistic backwater
and consequently a source of public ignorance and confusion. The news
media have done little to find out why the public seems to be so anti-Washington
while demanding (in poll after poll) more government protection for
public health, safety and consumer rights. Here is an area where journalists,
by doing their job, could help make democracy work and even score some
points with press bashers."