Remember when President George W. Bush promised the American people that his White House would be honest and forthright and that he would not follow the path of his predecessor, Bill Clinton?
Well, in this administration's first major test of openness, it seems that the president didn't really mean what he said. Thus, the following statement from White House spokesman Scott McClellan in response to the Senate's request for details relating to the administration's handling of environmental regulations:
"We are working closely and diligently with them [Congress] to provide documents and information through a cooperative process that all parties recently agreed to follow." It is this type of word game that had Republican members of Congress screaming for former President Clinton's head.
Why doesn't the Bush administration just say that it will turn over everything it has to the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, including the list of names of all individuals, both in and out of government, who participated in the formulation of the new environmental regulations?
Separation of powers: Such a straightforward response would be in keeping with Bush's insistence that he does not intend to adopt Clinton's stalling tactics when it comes to dealing with Congress. But it is obvious that after six months in office, the new Republican administration is just as determined as the previous Democratic administration to make sure that the separation of powers doctrine remains inviolate. Thus, the delay in turning over the documents to the Senate committee.
Indeed, the Los Angeles Times reported this week that committee members are talking about issuing subpoenas to the Interior and Agriculture departments and the Environmental Protection Agency if the information they seek isn't provided in the next several days.
Ever since the Democrats took control of the Senate last month following the defection of Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont from the Republican Party, questions dealing with the Bush administration's handling of environmental regulations have taken on new life. The issue has drawn public attention because the president eliminated or suspended regulations imposed during the Clinton years on such health-related matters as the amount of arsenic allowed in water and the level of toxic waste permitted by companies mining public lands.
Critics of Bush's environmental policies have charged that industry interests had an inordinate amount to influence over the administration's decisions, while the public's interest was largely ignored. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., chairman of the governmental affairs committee, wants to determine how decisions were made.
The refusal of the Bush administration to hand over all documentation pertaining to this important subject leaves the impression that it has something to hide.