Bush's Schizophrenic Approach to Transition

Washington Matters

Bush's Schizophrenic Approach to Transition

President Bush deserves a great deal of credit for reaching out even before the election to ensure a smooth transition. He's ordered his top aides to brief President-elect Obama's team, to welcome them into the upper echelons of federal departments and agencies and to do everything they can to make the switchover go smoothly. Bush has also been gracious to Obama, briefing him on developments and involving him on the big financial issues. And if there was ever a time when this was needed, this is it.

So how to explain some other decisions by the outgoing president?

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While offering to involve Obama and his team in the important financial rescue decisions of the Treasury, the Bush administration has simultaneously been rushing to put in place dozens of regulations that will only make Obama's life more difficult. Many of the rules involving the environment and business will be targeted for reversal, but that will take time and effort, requiring executive orders or in some cases a long -- and costly -- rulemaking process. In other cases, Congress may act, using a law passed by the Republican Congress a decade ago so it could undo Clinton administration rules more quickly. All administrations are guilty of this last-minute rush, but what's the point? It only wastes time and money and whipsaws businesses that need to make long-term plans but can't when they don't know which rules will be reversed.

Even more troubling is the dance over the stimulus. It's clear that the economy is facing a deep recession and by overwhelming margins, economists and lawmakers say a huge jolt -- in the form of tax cuts and government spending -- is necessary. But Americans will have to wait until Jan. 20 because Bush won't sign one. What's the point in this two-month delay when time is of the essence?


One element certain to be in the plan is money for the states to use for building roads and repairing bridges. Bush blocked that idea in September, saying it would take too long to have an effect. That would have been true if this were a typically short recession, but it is anything but that. Had Congress acted back in September, we'd be starting to see the effect now. But it's not too late. The nation's governors, meeting in Philadelphia this week, decided to ask for $136 billion for 270 projects, half of which could be ready to go soon. As Colorado's Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter put it on the Jim Lehrer NewsHour Tuesday night, "Shovels can be in the ground in 90 days."  With economists predicting that about 40,000 jobs are created for every billion spent, that means a fairly quick 2 million jobs in the construction industry, where unemployment is an astounding 10.8 percent. It also means a start in repairing a badly broken infrastructure and billions in tax revenue that the states will need over the coming 18 months. Recessions hit the states on a delayed basis. They're anticipating a combined shortfall in fiscal 2010 of $120 billion, twice this year's shortfall.

There's little doubt that the bigger Democratic majorities in Congress will push this money through next year, which makes it hard to understand why Bush and some Republican lawmakers refuse to act now and get the relief flowing more quickly. Moving this month while Bush is in power would also force Democrats to compromise a little, giving Republicans more sway over the size and makeup of the package. So why delay? What am I missing?