Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Bush’s last 100 days the ones to watch

The air crackles with anticipation. Fingers are crossed. It gets hard to breathe. Hope, for so long locked in a closet, begins pounding on the door.

And throwing caution to the wind, many already are talking about Barack Obama’s first 100 days. Will he move directly to the Apollo investment agenda, providing money to refit buildings, implement the use of renewable energy and generate jobs in the drive to reduce our dependence on foreign oil? Will he put forth a comprehensive health-care plan or begin by covering all children? Will workers finally be given the right to organize once more? How will he handle mortgage relief and/or help cities burdened by poverty?

But even as our minds, against all discipline, look beyond this day to the possible victory and change, we’d better start paying attention to another 100 days — President Bush’s last months in office.

Bush and Vice President Cheney represent a failed conservative era — and they know it. As the administration moves into its last 100 days, there seems to be a flurry of activity: regulations to forestall Obama’s new era of accountability; a flood of contracts to reward friends and lock in commitments; a Wall Street bailout that is pumping money out the door.

Consider: Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is handing out $350 billion to the banks, drawing a special circle around nine banks — including Goldman Sachs, the firm he previously headed — as clearly too big to fail. The money apparently has no conditions, even though the entire purpose was to get the banks to start lending once more to one another and to companies and individuals.

Now it appears that banks plan to hoard the cash, to use it to help pay for mergers with other healthy banks (not weak ones), or to pay out dividends and bonuses. And Paulson, instead of publicly rebuking them, has let it be known that mergers would be a good thing.

Instead of getting the banking system working for small businesses and people again, our money is being used to consolidate the strength of a few megabanks.

There has been a rapid increase in military outlays over the last few months. Is the Pentagon being called on to help bolster the economy — and perhaps McCain — in these final weeks? Or, more likely, is the Pentagon pumping out money to reward its friends and lock in spending before the new sheriff gets to town?

The Washington Post reports that the White House is “working to enact an array of federal regulations, many of which would weaken rules aimed at protecting consumers and the environment, before President Bush leaves office in January.”

About 90 new rules are in the works, and at least nine are considered “economically significant” because they would impose costs or promote societal benefits that exceed $100 million annually. Many will make changes that the new administration will find it hard to reverse for years to come. More emissions from power plants; more exemptions from environmental-impact statements; permission to operate natural gas lines at higher levels of pressure — the changes could be the last calamities visited upon us by the Bush administration.

Congress — the old one, not the new one just elected — comes back into special session right after the election. Representatives Henry Waxman and John Conyers would be well advised to convene special hearings to try to curb what Bush has cooked up for his last 100 days. Let’s not let the new dawn that is possible be dimmed by clouds left over from an old era that has failed.

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