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 50 Days and Counting

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PostSubject: 50 Days and Counting   50 Days and Counting I_icon_minitimeThu Mar 12, 2009 12:29 am

What a difference a regime change has made. sunny


In His First 50 Days, President Obama Rapidly Reverses Bush Policies

From Gitmo to Stem Cell Research, Obama Veers Away From Bush's Policies

President Obama may not have changed the decor of the Oval Office, but he's quickly taking steps to overturn policies that marked the legacy of his predecessor, George W. Bush.

Soon after being elected last year, the 44th president advised his transition team to draft an executive order to close down the detainee center at Guantanamo Bay, a move assailed by former Vice President Dick Cheney. Since entering the White House, Obama has quickly taken action to revoke additional Bush-era policies.

The swift-moving president says he is trying to fulfill his campaign promises and supporters applaud his efforts. Critics say he could be trying to do too much too soon.

Here is a list of the Bush administration policies and laws that Obama has reversed so far:

Allowing Funding of Stem Cell Research and Abortion Groups

Stem Cell Research

In his latest rollback of Bush administration policies, President Obama signed an executive order Monday lifting the 7½-year ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research and a memorandum covering all scientific research. In a less-than-subtle criticism of Bush's ban, Obama said, "In recent years, when it comes to stem cell research, rather than furthering discovery, our government has forced what I believe is a false choice between sound science and moral values. In this case, I believe the two are not inconsistent," the president added before signing the order.

Obama said throughout his presidential campaign that he would overturn the ban if elected. President Bush banned federal funding for such research in August 2001, citing "moral concerns raised by the new frontier of human embryonic stem cell research. Even the most noble ends don't justify the means." Nearly six in ten Americans support loosening restrictions on federal funding of stem cell research. Proponents of stem cell research say Obama's order is a promising sign that progress can be made after a more-than-eight-year stalemate, while others say it is only a tiny step. Anti-abortion groups say the research is unethical and unreliable.

Global Gag Rule

The debate on whether U.S. government should fund international family planning groups that provide abortions or related services has been brewing for decades. The "Mexico City Policy" that was signed into law by Ronald Reagan in 1984 was overturned by Bill Clinton in 1993 and restored by Bush in 2001. So, it was only a matter of time before the next Democratic president also rescinded his predecessor's rule.

Obama overturned the policy on Jan. 23, just days after he took the oath of office. "For the past eight years, [the restrictions] have undermined efforts to promote safe and effective voluntary family planning in developing countries," Obama said in a statement. Some international family planning groups hailed the decision, saying that Bush's ban discriminated against the world's poor by denying U.S. aid to groups that may be involved in abortion, but also work on other aspects of reproductive health care and HIV/AIDS. Obama's move was also met by criticism by Republicans and anti-abortion groups.

Provider Conscience Rule

Breaking with Bush on health care, Obama wants to give more power back to the patients on whether health care providers should provide controversial services. The administration revoked the Bush-era "Provider Conscience" rule that created more regulations to prevent those who refuse to hire doctors and nurses opposed to abortion rights from receiving federal funds. The move was applauded by abortion rights advocacy groups, who say the limits restricted patients' rights.

War Games: From Gitmo to the Casket Ban

Closing Detainee Center at Guantanamo

In his first major step in office, Obama signed an executive order closing down the detainee center at the Guantanamo Bay military facility within a year, and established new guidelines on interrogation methods and the treatment of detainees. In another order signed on the same day, Obama mandated all U.S. interrogators in all agencies to adhere to rules in the Army Field Manual, and the president also called for the shut down of CIA detention centers around the world.

The orders call for some detainees to be transferred to U.S. prisons, and others to be transferred overseas. The move marked a sharp departure from Bush-era policies and even provoked criticism from Cheney. But Obama, who reiterated during his campaign the idea that the U.S. does not torture -- called Gitmo a "sad chapter in American history" -- and pledged to shutter it as soon as he could, said the country will deal with terrorism "in a manner that is consistent with our values and our ideals."

Casket Ban

The Pentagon lifted the controversial ban on the photographing of flag-draped caskets of America's war dead, reversing the policy that was implemented by George Bush in 2001. Critics say the ban hid the human cost of war and soon after taking over the White House, Obama asked Secretary of Defense Robert Gates to review its impact on military families. Under the new rules, families will decide whether to grant media access to caskets of the dead and the military will suggest guidelines for how much coverage to allow. In rescinding the Bush-era policy on Feb. 26, Gates said he was "never comfortable" with the ban to begin with.

Troops Drawdown in Iraq

Partially fulfilling one of his major campaign promises that probably is one of the sharpest reversals from Bush's policy, Obama ordered the drawdown of troops in Iraq at a late February pit stop in Camp Lejune, N.C. "Let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," the president said on Feb. 27 in a gathering of troops.

During his presidential run, Obama promised to withdraw all U.S. combat troops within 16 months of taking office, but under his current plan, the number of 142,000 troops will be drawn down to 35,000-50,000 within 19 months. At the same time, Obama has committed more troops to Afghanistan, fulfilling the request from generals who want to step up the effort against a rising insurgency. Iraq, unsurprisingly, is one of the new administration's top agenda items. The president met with his close advisers on his first day in office to discuss the drawdown.

Defending John Yoo

But the Obama administration hasn't completely torn itself away from Bush's policies. The president's Justice Department is defending former Bush official John Yoo, so-called author of the "torture memo," and who is being sued by Jose Padilla, a suspected terrorist who says Yoo's memos on interrogation policies led to his detention and torture. "This administration has made no secret of the fact that it disagrees with the previous administration's approach to many legal issues in the national security arena," Matthew Miller, spokesman for the Justice Department, said in a written statement defending the decision. "Nevertheless, the Department of Justice generally defends employees and former employees in lawsuits that are filed in connection to their official duties."

Environment and Labor Policies

Endangered Species Act

The president authorized full scientific reviews of projects that might harm endangered wildlife and plants. Obama's memorandum overrides the Bush administration regulation that limits scientific reviews of projects that could harm endangered species.

While signing the act on March 3, Obama chided Bush's policies, saying that "For more than three decades, the Endangered Species Act has successfully protected our nation's most threatened wildlife. We should be looking for ways to improve it, not weaken it." The Obama team had promised the change during the presidential campaign, a move welcomed by environmentalists who say the government's protection does not go far enough.

Allowing States to Set Fuel Efficiency Standards

Obama started a process and asked the Environmental Protection Agency to look at allowing California and 13 other states the right to set their own, stricter, automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, a plea by the states that was rejected by the Bush administration. This was just one of the first steps in altering the environment policy from that of the Bush administration.

Obama also directed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, to finalize the fuel efficiency standards for cars for 2011 and to make recommendations for beyond that year, an action expected to lead to stricter fuel efficiency standards. The president is expected to continue taking further such steps away from his predecessor's policies. The Obama administration is also seeking tougher regulations on mercury emissions and changing the way the Bush team approached the topic.

Labor Laws

Only ten days in office, Obama signed three executive orders that he said would "level the playing field" for labor unions and that would make unions easy to organize. Obama reversed a Bush order requiring federal contractors to post notice that workers can limit financial support of unions serving as their only bargaining representatives. Additionally, in undoing Bush's policies, Obama ordered that federal contractors offer jobs to current workers when contracts change and that federal contractors be prevented from being reimbursed for expenses meant to influence workers deciding whether to form a union and engage in collective bargaining. Obama's first law signed was also labor-related. The Equal Pay for Equal Work Bill was signed into law Jan. 29 and sought to end pay disparities between men and women.

Oil and Gas Leases

Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced in February that the government would withdraw oil and gas leases that were offered on 77 parcels of public land for drilling near national parks in Utah by the Bush administration and that are currently in court. "In its last weeks in office, the Bush administration rushed ahead to sell oil and gas leases at the doorstep of some of our nation's most treasured landscapes in Utah," Salazar said. "We need to responsibly develop our oil and gas supplies to help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, but we must do so in a thoughtful and balanced way that allows us to protect our signature landscapes and cultural resources in places like Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Parks, Dinosaur National Monument, and Nine Mile Canyon, for future generations." The leases are for a total of 103,225 acres. Salazar also scrapped leases for oil-shale development on federal land in Colorado and Wyoming. Salazar has also rejected a Bush plan to open areas off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts to oil drilling, criticizing the previous administration for "foot dragging."

Obama's reversals of his predecessor's policies are a sign that the new administration is trying to make good on its campaign promise of change. Just Monday, Obama wrote in a memo to heads of executive branch departments and agencies that he will sign presidential statements, but do so more sparingly than Bush, who came under fire for using hundreds of these statements to tell government officials to ignore parts of the law that it believed were unconstitutional restrictions on the president's executive power, most notably on national security issues. "I will issue signing statements to address constitutional concerns only when it is appropriate to do so as a means of discharging my constitutional responsibilities," he wrote.

ABC News' Kate Barrett, Lindsey Ellerson, Karen Travers, Nitya Venkataraman contributed to this report.

In His First 50 Days, President Obama Rapidly Reverses Bush Policies

Food for thought:

"The Narragansett Indians are the ONLY federally recognized tribe in the country “explicitly denied coverage” by the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). This exception was contained in a rider inserted without hearings into the Omnibus Appropriations Act in 1996 by the late U. S. Sen. John Chaffee, R.-R.I., overturning federal court decisions upholding the Narragansett’s right to a casino.”
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