Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Maybe Bush's People Will Follow the Law Now: Margaret Carlson

By Margaret Carlson


Nov. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Political analysts are still poring over exit polls trying to glean reasons why Democrats won the Congress in the midterm elections.


It was the war in Iraq, of course, but also a pile of other issues -- voter disgust with lobbyist Jack Abramoff for taking elected officials off to golf, and elected officials taking themselves off to Terri Schiavo's bedside at the expense of the country's business. It was also images of Katrina's destruction, the anger of those left out of the Bush boom, and a desperate president asserting that to vote Democratic would mean America lost and the terrorists won.


It's all of the above and one other issue bubbling under the surface: the president who ruled as if he had won in a landslide making appointments as partisan as possible.


No appointment was so unreasonable that the Republican- controlled Congress wouldn't rubber-stamp it. Often, President George W. Bush chose a nominee whose views were at war with the agency he was being assigned to head.


I'm thinking of the Exxon Mobil Corp. lobbyist chosen as chief of staff on the Council on Environmental Quality who blacked out of official documents the scientific findings on global warming that he didn't like. Or the mining industry executive chosen to oversee the safety of those who descend into ever-more-perilous mines each day. The Bush administration filled the Energy Department with oil producers and the Agriculture Department with corporate farmers and meat processors.


Family Planning


Nowhere was this more apparent than in matters having to do with family planning. Most of the money the Bush administration controls for reproductive health, HIV testing, sexually transmitted diseases and the like has gone to abstinence-only programs whose efficacy and scientific foundation are under question by the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office.


Commissions and study groups having anything to do with sex -- from teenagers having it to the spread of AIDS -- are stacked with zealots whose views comport with those of the evangelical Christians in Bush's base.


Bush compromised the Food and Drug Administration by appointing Lester Crawford deputy commissioner in 2002 and commissioner in 2005. Crawford, a veterinarian and ardent opponent of the morning-after birth-control pill, was immediately at loggerheads with the agency's scientists, all of whom agreed with the best medical research that the pill was safe and should be available to the public.


As Bush wished, Crawford stood in the way of those findings and kept the pill from going to market. He suddenly resigned in September 2005 just before the Justice Department charged him with lying, filing false financial-disclosure forms and owning stock in companies regulated by the FDA.


Mission at Odds


Now Bush has appointed Eric Keroack as a deputy assistant secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services where he will run the Office of Population Affairs with a budget of almost $300 million. Among other things, the office is charged with providing ``access to contraceptive supplies and information to all who want and need them with priority given to low-income persons.''


Keroack's prior mission is completely at odds with his new one. According to Congressional Democrats opposed to his Nov. 17 appointment, he refused to dispense contraceptives even to married women while he was the medical director for the last decade of an organization called A Woman's Concern. This nonprofit network of clinics in Massachusetts preaches abstinence because ``birth control is demeaning to women, degrading of human sexuality and adverse to human health and happiness,'' according to the group's literature.


Losing at Love


In his writings, Keroack maintains that having more than one partner affects that part of the brain that helps us form loving relationships.


``Scientific evidence has shown that individuals who participate in relationships which end in failure actually experience a chemical change in the brain which makes it more likely for them to engage in more failed relationships in the future,'' Keroack said at the 2006 Abstinence Leadership Conference in Kansas City, Missouri. Don't despair, however. There's hope in abstinence. ``Secondary virginity can heal their brains.''


In addition to Keroack, Bush has revisited some of his more dubious personnel choices since the election. He has renominated six judges previously blocked by Congress and asked for the confirmation of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, whose claim on the job was that he objects to the organization's existence.


Keroack Letter


In contrast to those appointments, Keroack's doesn't require Senate confirmation. Still, with Democrats now in charge, he may not be able to undermine the program with impunity. Seven House Democrats and 14 senators have written a letter to the head of HHS asking that his appointment be withdrawn because of his views, which are antithetical to the legislation establishing the agency.


At his press conference the morning after the election, Bush opened with ``Why so glum?'' -- as if to say nothing had changed for him. So what if Dennis Hastert and his congressional majority were gone? He was still president. Even without a Republican Congress to look the other way, he will see how long he can ignore laws he doesn't like and appoint officials to agencies he wishes would go away.


Among those signing the Keroack letter asking that the appointment be rescinded are leaders of House and Senate committees with oversight of HHS's mission and budget. They can't scuttle Keroack's appointment and they can't fire him. But they can make him follow the law. That may sound like a given, though it wasn't when Republicans were in charge. That was one of the best reasons for voting them out.


(Margaret Carlson, author of ``Anyone Can Grow Up: How George Bush and I Made It to the White House'' and former White House correspondent for Time magazine, is a Bloomberg News columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

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