Obama Set to Reverse Bush Policies

With the election over and President-elect Obama setting up his transition administration, particular agendas become evident. Among them are issues that display stark differences between the current Bush administration’s policies and those promised by Barack Obama.

Ceci Connolly and R. Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post report, November 9, 2008:

Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team….

In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.

“The kind of regulations they are looking at” are those imposed by Bush for “overtly political” reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration’s Office of Management and Budget. The list of executive orders targeted by Obama’s team could well get longer in the coming days, as Bush’s appointees rush to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.

Some of the Bush administration policies are easier to change than others. The closing of Guantanamo might take longer than some suspect. Marisa Taylor and Michael Doyle from the Miami Herald write, November 7, 2008:

Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence committees, predicted that Obama would move to close Guantanamo relatively quickly. She’ll reintroduce legislation to do so early next year.

“The handwriting is on the wall,” Feinstein said. “It’s just a matter of time.”

Although Guantánamo isn’t expected to be as thorny as the issues of interrogation techniques, detention without charges and eavesdropping, it may take longer to close than Obama wants because of the question of what to do with high-value terrorists. The Obama administration could end up moving them to prisons scattered across the United States as it sorts out who should remain jailed and where others should be sent.

On the other hand, some policies can be reversed with a simple request. Alta Charo, a Warren P. Knowles Professor of Law & Bioethics at the UW-Madison Law School, indicated that it would be very simple for President Obama to make federal funding available to more embryonic stem cell lines. All he would need to do is “give a simple order to the director of the National Institutes of Health.”

The recent article from the Washington Post echoes Prof. Charo’s assertion:

Obama himself has signaled, for example, that he intends to reverse Bush’s controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases, such as Parkinson’s.

Bush’s August 2001 decision pleased religious conservatives who have moral objections to the use of cells from days-old human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.

But Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) said that during Obama’s final swing through her state in October, she reminded him that because the restrictions were never included in legislation, Obama “can simply reverse them by executive order.” Obama, she said, “was very receptive to that.” Opponents of the restrictions have already drafted an executive order he could sign.

The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City policy, but Bush reimposed it.