WASHINGTON From abortion and workplace safety to the environment and judicial nominees, President George W. Bush is reshaping federal policies with bold conservative strokes while tempering his actions with words and gestures aimed at the political middle.
Bush’s right-leaning agenda has drawn criticism that the new administration and its Capitol Hill allies are beholden to Republican party special interests, particularly big business.
Just two months into a term he narrowly won, the president has loosened environmental restrictions on industries, banned federal spending on abortion-related activities overseas and cut the liberal leaning American Bar Association out of vetting federal judges.
Those and other actions are evidence of a dramatic change in direction from President Bill Clinton’s eight-year term.
“Their special interests are running the government,” said Democratic Party Chairman Terry McAuliffe, whose party’s special interests held considerable sway under Clinton. “The public won’t stand long for this.”
But the president’s strong poll numbers suggest Bush is succeeding in pleasing his core supporters while reaching out to moderate America. As Clinton tried from the left and President Ronald Reagan tried from the right, Bush’s strategy is to soften his political edges without abandoning his ideological core.
“President Reagan acted and talked bipartisan, but behaved like a conservative,” said Christopher Deering, political scientist at George Washington University. “Bush is working from the same playbook.”
Analysts say most voters probably do not realize the scope of Bush’s conservative agenda, and are neither turned off nor surprised by what they hear about it. It was a close election, but “the people of America know they elected a Republican,” Republican party consultant Rich Galen said.
Bush has advocated a host of business friendly actions with the support of banking, business and industry lobbies that donated millions of dollars to the Republican party’s campaigns.
He proposed a US$1.6 trillion, 10-year tax cut plan that dedicates much of the savings to wealthy Americans.
He signed a bill to repeal Clinton-era rules designed to make the workplace safer, saying the regulations posed “overwhelming compliance challenges” for business.
And he stands ready to sign a measure passed by the Republican party-led Congress to make it more difficult for people to erase their debts in bankruptcy courts.
“What the president has done … are things that are good for employers, good for employees and good for the economy,” said Lonnie Taylor, senior vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
Under pressure from energy industry officials, Bush broke a campaign pledge and decided against regulating carbon dioxide emissions at power plants.
The Environmental Protection Agency plans to revoke a Clinton administration rule that would have reduced the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water, citing the high costs of compliance to states, municipalities and industry.
The Interior Department, bowing to mining groups, decided to suspending new hard-rock regulations for public lands that would have strengthened environmental standards.
Reaching into the court system, the president withdrew several Clinton judicial nominees and put political adviser on a committee recommending nominees to the federal bench.
He stripped the bar association of its half-century role in reviewing judicial candidates, egged on by conservative lawmakers still bristling by the group’s mixed review of Robert Bork which helped derail his Supreme Court nomination under President Reagan.
The horizon is filled with more opportunities for Bush to change the nation’s course.
His administration is reviewing medical privacy rules opposed by the health industry, and critics wonder if anti-tobacco legislation and the antitrust case against Microsoft will lose steam under the new presidency.
The public seems to like the change; about 60 percent of voters give Bush high marks for his performance. Political scientist Deering said Bush projects a sense of kindness and fair-mindedness, which may be more important than and single policy.