7. Trashing Federal Regulations for Profit

by Project Censored
Published: Updated:

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 away 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 own bailout.

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 pushed. 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 consolida­tion 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 and safety:

° 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.”