Cross-posted at DailyKos. “Dead by Sunset” is the name of a lurid true crime book by Ann Rule about a sociopathic killer in Portland, Oregon. Brad Cunningham bludgeoned his estranged wife to death and then pushed “her van onto the Sunset Freeway in Oregon hoping cars will pile into the vehicle and the murder will look like a traffic accident.”
Kill it, and make it look like an accident. That’s the modus operandi of a provision of the new budget approved by Congress.
Buried deep in the reams of the new budget is a “sunset” provision that will permit a small commission — it will be a commission comprised of lobbyists and corporate executives — to kill the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, even the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The arch-assassin is Bush’s longtime friend Clay Johnson, “the most influential member of Bush’s inner circle whom you’ve never heard of,” and the Director of the obscure Office of Management and Budget. More below:
Writes PR Watch:
A little-noticed proposal in the 2,000 page federal budget “would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the ‘Sunset Commission.'” The commission would “review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not ‘producing results,’ in the eyes of the commission, would ‘automatically terminate unless the Congress took action.'” Even the Environmental Protection Agency or Food and Drug Administration could be axed, on a “simple vote of five commissioners” – not a high bar, since many commissioners would likely be “lobbyists and executives from major corporations.”
In “Bush’s Most Radical Plan Yet, a May 2005 article in Rolling Stone, writer Osha Gray Davidson digs into the facets of the sunset provision and concludes that, “[w]Ith a vote of hand-picked lobbyists, the president could terminate any federal agency he dislikes”:
The proposal, spelled out in three short sentences, would give the president the power to appoint an eight-member panel called the “Sunset Commission,” which would systematically review federal programs every ten years and decide whether they should be eliminated. Any programs that are not “producing results,” in the eyes of the commission, would “automatically terminate unless the Congress took action to continue them.”
Note that the president is given the power to appoint the eight-member panel, which means the Sunset provision commission would “violate the constitutional separation of power between Congress and the executive branch, enabling the president to dismantle programs created by lawmakers.”
However, Republicans already have a work-around for that little constitutional problem:
Under a bill expected to be introduced soon, the power to appoint the commission would be given to Congress rather than to the president — simply transferring the authority from Bush to his GOP allies on the Hill.
Wouldn’t the courts pose a problem? Oh, the Republicans have that figured out too, reports Rolling Stone:
And if the commission is challenged in court, the administration is likely to drag out the fight until it has firmly established a conservative majority on the Supreme Court.
Clay Johnson is an old hand at seizing power from bureaucratic government entities:
When Bush was elected governor of Texas in 1994, he put the buddy he calls “Big Man” — Johnson is six feet four — in charge of all state appointments. Johnson, a former executive at Neiman Marcus and Frito-Lay, refers to Americans as “customers” and is partial to Chamber of Commerce bromides such as “We’re in the results business.”
He is also partial to giving corporate lobbyists a direct role in gutting regulatory protections.
One of his first acts in Texas was to remove all three members of the state environmental-protection commission and replace them with a former Monsanto executive, an official with the Texas Beef Council and a lawyer for the oil industry.
Overnight, a commission widely respected for its impartiality became a “revolving door between the industry lobby and government,” says Jim Marston, the senior attorney in Texas for the nonprofit organization Environmental Defense.
[NOTE: The photo and pullquote are from the PBS Frontline profile of Clay Johnson.]
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay
The panel — which will likely be composed of “experts in management issues,” according to one senior OMB official — will enable the administration to terminate entire government programs that protect citizens against injury and death. Consider what America might look like if Reagan had wielded such an anti-regulatory ax twenty years ago. Abolishing the EPA would have increased air pollution, causing tens of thousands of children to develop chronic respiratory diseases. Terminating the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would have eliminated many protections we now take for granted — including air bags, child safety seats and automatic seat belts. And getting rid of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration would have forestalled workplace regulations that have prevented illnesses among millions of farmworkers.
Even if such regulations remain on the books, eliminating entire agencies would leave no one to enforce them. “And if there’s no cop on the beat, who’s going to follow the law?” says J. Robert Shull, senior policy analyst at OMB Watch.
The first hint of Bush’s plan to create a commission surfaced only weeks after he won re-election last November. At an economic conference convened by Treasury Secretary John Snow, one panel member made the case for inserting a sunset provision into existing regulations. Such a move would “shift the burden of proof onto the regulations and require us to demonstrate that they’re still needed,” said Susan Dudley, director of regulatory studies at the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank based in Washington, D.C.
The Sunset provision has long been in the plans, harking back to the Reagan presidency:
“Ronald Reagan once observed, ‘The closest thing to immortality on this earth is a federal government program,’ ” says Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from Texas who has been working for the past nine years to establish a sunset commission. “We need it to clear out the deadwood.”
But, “the provision goes beyond anything attempted by conservatives in the past.”
“When you look at this,” says Marchant Wentworth, a lobbyist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, “it’s almost like the Reagan administration was a trial run.”
Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way.
Once again, it’s Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) speaking up. Sometimes I wonder how Waxman can handle being the canary in the coalmine so often:
“Under the administration’s proposal, Congress would relinquish its constitutional power to legislate,” says Rep. Henry Waxman, a Democrat from California who has been the commission’s most vocal opponent. “Power would be consolidated in the executive branch, and the legislative role would be emasculated.”
“The end result,” says Waxman, “would be a field day for corporate lobbyists.”
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Besides raging — which we do all too often and with often insufficient effect — what else can we do?
Especially since this is a measure that will be massaged and modified — slipped in this bill and that bill — by the Republicans over the span of a few years until the commission is in place, set to do maximum damage, and inviolable from legislation or judicial defense?
Poetic touches courtesy of Dylan Thomas.