Eleventh Hour: The Politics of Policy Initiatives in Presidential Transitions

By David M. Shafie | Go to book overview

8 Conclusion Digging in and Running out the Clock

A year before President Obama’s reelection, progressives were nervous. The stakes in any presidential election are high, but it was clear that the winner in 2012 would gain control of the federal bureaucracy and determine the direction of domestic policies discussed in the preceding chapters. The Washington, DC-based Center for Progressive Reform sounded this alarm in the title of its report Twelve Crucial Health, Safety, and Environmental Regulations: Will the ObamaAdministration Finish in Time? The reported faulted industry lobbying, congressional interference, and OIRA reviews for delaying regulations ranging in scope from mine safety and workplace accident prevention to addressing pollution from stormwater runoff and coal ash.1 A Republican victory, the report warned, meant that rules stuck in the pipeline were in danger of being rescinded by the new president or reversed through the Congressional Review Act.

Mindful of the clock, President Obama rolled out a series of unilateral policy initiatives known as the “We Can’t Wait” campaign.2 From an executive order to prevent prescription drug shortages to the recess appointment of Richard Cordray to lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, each of his actions was calculated to bypass Congress and leave a lasting mark on public policy. Legislative accomplishments such as the Affordable Care Act notwithstanding, the first two years of Obama’s presidency were filled with frustration. A unified Republican opposition and skittish Democrats thwarted many of his other legislative priorities. The congressional midterm elections of 2010 proved the final nail in the coffin for his legislative agenda, as no fewer than sixty-six seats in the House of Representatives flipped from Democrat to Republican control. The party’s gains from the 2006 and 2008 elections were washed away by an anti-incumbent wave, which also managed to take out powerful veteran committee chairs such as John Spratt, Ike Skelton, and James Oberstar in the process. Even though the president’s party held onto

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