STEVE INSKEEP, host:
This Friday before Thanksgiving might not feel special, but it's an important date for the Bush administration. There is a law mandating a 60-day waiting period before any big new federal regulations take effect. And there are now 60 days remaining until January 20th, when President-elect Barack Obama takes over. So, the Bush administration is in a regulatory rush to get new rules on the books that are seen as pro-business. NPR's Peter Overby reports.
PETER OVERBY: This is sometimes called midnight rule-making, even though that 60-day waiting period or even 30 days for minor rules makes for a pretty long midnight. The Bush administration set a timetable last May to make sure the speed-up happened, but it's hardly been mentioned at White House press briefings. Earlier this month, spokeswoman Dana Perino brushed aside a single query.
(Soundbite of press briefing)
Ms. DANA PERINO (White House Press Secretary, George W. Bush Administration): What I will tell you is that policies that this president has made have been carefully considered. All of the due diligence has been done on a range of these issues.
OVERBY: Regulations now emerging from the pipeline affect all sorts of hot-button issues. Matt Madia makes his living tracking the federal regulatory process. He works for OMB Watch, a nonprofit group that monitors the White House Office of Management and Budget, where all regulations get a final review.
Mr. MATT MADIA (Regulatory Policy Analyst, OMB Watch): It's unfortunate that so many of the rules will damage the environment or roll back existing requirements on pollution.
OVERBY: Madia says that regardless of the issue, all of the decisions are decidedly conservative and pro-business.
Mr. MADIA: These are the kinds of things we're seeing, and they're not in the public's interest.
OVERBY: Take the Labor Department's new regulations on the Family and Medical Leave Act. The law was passed during the Clinton administration, with corporations fighting to stop it. It lets workers take unpaid leave to tend to medical and family needs. Two years ago, the Labor Department started the current rule-making. Last year, it started writing draft regulations. Then last month, Labor abruptly approved a final version; 15 days later, OMB gave the final OK. Everybody likes one part of the regs; it gives extra family and medical leave to families of service members recovering from injury or illness. But another provision says companies can impose rules that keep employees from using paid vacation instead of the unpaid leave. The National Association of Manufacturers wanted this. Keith Smith is the association's director of employment and labor policy.
Mr. KEITH SMITH (Director, Employment and Labor Policy, National Association of Manufacturers): This wasn't something that was rushed through by any means. Even though that these regulations were long overdue, they took the time to make sure that they were done right. They look at the feedback, the comments provided by thousands of commenters.
OVERBY: Among those opposing the new regulation was the National Partnership for Women and Families.
Ms. JOCELYN FRYE (General Counsel, National Partnership for Women and Families): In difficult economic times in particular, it's very tough to take leave that's unpaid.
OVERBY: General counsel Jocelyn Frye says there is no reason, legal or otherwise, for the change.
Ms. FRYE: It was always our view that these regulations were largely unnecessary.
OVERBY: Similar quarrels are breaking out over other regulations. But President Bush is far from the first president to wield last-minute power this way. John Adams set the precedent in 1801, by appointing what were called the midnight judges. Eight years ago, President Clinton approved dozens of new regulations in his final days, but the 60-day waiting period hadn't run, and President Bush was able to put them all on hold. Republicans in Congress mocked Clinton's last-minute burst of action. Here's then Senator Don Nickles speaking off the Senate floor.
Mr. DON NICKLES (Former Senator, Republican, Oklahoma): Couldn't get whatever they wanted to do through Congress, and so all of the sudden they started issuing regs, particularly in the last couple of weeks of the Clinton administration, in some cases to give things to their supporters.
OVERBY: Now, President Bush has tried to avoid Clinton's misstep by getting his midnight regulations into effect now. That way, the 60-day waiting period can run out before he leaves office. Congressional Democrats, including former First Lady Hillary Clinton, are already introducing bills designed to outmaneuver him. Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.