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Paul Kiesel
Paul Kiesel
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The Real Bush Legacy

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As President Bush’s approval ratings continue to slide (the most recent Gallup Poll shows W. with a 27 percent approval rating), a stealth effort is being coordinated at the highest levels of the Bush administration to make sure that, at the very least, "big business" approves of its corporate policies before Bush 43 leaves the White House.

Bush Administration officials are doing their best to rewrite an array of federal rules with changes or additions that would potentially block product-safety lawsuits by consumers and states.

According to The Wall Street Journal, "The administration has written language aimed at pre-empting product-liability litigation into 50 rules governing everything from motorcycle brakes to pain medicine," (online.wsj.com, 10/15/08). An example of this can be seen in lawsuit-protection language that was added to 10 new regulations, including one issued last week at the Department of Transportation that limits the number of seatbelts that automakers are required to install and prohibits lawsuits by injured passengers who didn’t get to wear a safety belt. This sort of backwards logic can be seen in other Bush policies (domestic and foreign) over the last eight years (i.e. Meatpacking industry, prosecution of executive officials in war crimes, warrantless wire-tapping program, the recent and first draft of the bailout bill, commuting Scooter Libby’s prison sentence, etc., etc.).

However, much of what the Bush administration is trying to pull off depends in part on how the underlying principle of pre-emption is viewed by the Supreme Court, which will hear a case regarding this matter, Wyeth v. Levine, sometime next month.

A concern that many consumer advocacy groups have is that once these new rules are written and made into law, the next president will not be able to quickly undo them. Federal rules usually must go through extensive review processes before they are changed. For instance, any rule the FDA passes could take a couple years before they are reversed.

Unfortunately, what President Bush and his phalanx of corporate-leaning officials are trying to do — protect corporations from product liability, which was discussed very early on in Bush’s first term — is to make it more difficult for consumers to protect themselves through state laws. Former Bush domestic-policy adviser Jay Lefkowitz, who’s been instrumental in these processes, said that, "You can’t ask companies to follow different standards."

According to Lefkowitz’s logic, the Bush administration is basically saying: Corporations are too simple minded to follow both federal and individual state laws when it comes to consumer products, therefore, consumers will be put at a greater liability risk, however, if they’re injured or harmed by the product being consumed, they will find it all the more difficult to pursue legal recourse due to Bush’s wanton need to have his corporate buddies approve of him.

The irony here is that Lefkowitz has even admitted that the administration has not tried pressing its "pre-emption agenda" in Congress, because they know they’d lose. So they took matters into their own hands. "There was already authority within federal government statutes and regulations to start the reform process without legislation [. . .] Using that and legal briefs, we proceeded," Lefkowitz said.

Hopefully the next White House administration can undo a lot of the Bush administration’s mangled law that has been passed over the last eight years and this federal pre-emption regulation that’s still clawing its way to be passed by Bush and his cabal of corporate cheerleaders, and proceed with making sure that W. and Vice President Cheney spend their twilight years being subpoenaed and stuck in courtrooms. These two and their minions need to be held accountable.