Published for The Washington Post, April 25, 2012
The dedication of the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum here has been an occasion for both friends and critics of the former president to press their case. According to the polls, the number of critics has fallen over time. They make up for it with enthusiasm.
I fall into the friend category, having worked for President Bush for several years beginning early in the 2000 campaign. There are a number of reasons to join a presidential campaign, not least of which is the main-stage, high-wire excitement. But I can recall the day I decided that my guy was the guy. Bush, campaigning at a town-hall meeting in Gaffney, S.C., got a question demanding to know how he would stop the flow of illegal immigrants. He took the opportunity to remind his rural, conservative audience that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande” and that as long as “moms and dads” in Mexico couldn’t feed their children at home, they would seek opportunity in America.
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Published April 24, 2013
The new George W. Bush Presidential Center is being dedicated this week. This seems like a good time to bust a longstanding myth about our former President, my former boss.
I teach a class at Stanford Business School titled “Financial Crises in the U.S. and Europe.” During one class session while explaining the events of September 2008, I kept referring to the efforts of the threesome of Hank Paulson, Ben Bernanke, and Tim Geithner, who were joined at the hip in dealing with firm-specific problems as they arose.
One of my students asked “How involved was President Bush with what was going on?” I smiled and responded, “What you really mean is, ‘Was President Bush smart enough to understand what was going on,’ right?”
The class went dead silent. Everyone knew that this was the true meaning of the question. Kudos to that student for asking the hard question and for framing it so politely. I had stripped away that decorum and exposed the raw nerve.
I looked hard at the 60 MBA students and said “President Bush is smarter than almost every one of you.”
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Published for The Hill Congress Blog, April 16, 2013
This Thursday, when the Senate holds its hearing on President Obama’s nomination of Gina McCarthy for EPA administrator, attention is likely to be focused on the many costly rules that EPA has issued during the last four years, and the additional ones now planned. During the president’s first term, the administration issued more than 200 economically significant new rules each involving more than $100 million in new annual costs — a record high for any president’s first term — and EPA alone accounted for more than 25 new economically significant final rules, with annual costs in the billions of dollars by EPA’s own estimates.
The administration has argued that these regulatory costs are justified, by asserting high “benefits” that exceed their costs. It is to the president’s credit that he has continued to require cost-benefit analysis of major rules to ensure they do more good than harm, as presidents of both parties have required in the past. But with regard to EPA, what has been less noticed than the high cost of the agency’s rules is that there is considerable reason to be skeptical about how EPA is assessing the benefits that it claims. Though environmental goals often deservedly command wide support, careful analysts have noted that EPA has overstated benefits and included things that ought not count at all. (See Dudley, 47 Business Economics 165, July 2012.) As one example, an ongoing action by EPA illustrates just how far agencies may go to find supposed “benefits” to justify new red tape.
In 2011, EPA proposed a new regulation governing the equipment that power plants and manufacturing facilities use to draw in water to prevent overheating. These water intake systems generally are not harmful to health or water quality, but EPA’s staff expressed concerns primarily about their effect on larvae and forage fish — commonly known as “bait”. To reduce losses of such fish, EPA wants to require installation of advanced screens at 1,200 facilities and dramatically more expensive technologies to be decided later on a site-by-site basis.
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Published for National Affairs, March 25, 2013
For decades, one common cliché of American campaign rhetoric has been the criticism that presidential aspirants are “measuring the drapes.” When news leaks that a candidate is contemplating his future cabinet, or readying a policy agenda for the first 100 days of his administration, such advance preparation is typically exploited by his opponent as evidence of unbecoming hubris. Our presidential contenders have thus had to tread very carefully, caught between two unpleasant choices: entering the Oval Office underprepared, or risking criticism for seeming to presume a victory not yet won.
This difficult balance was on my mind when, in July of 2012, I was invited to a meeting at the Washington headquarters of the Romney Readiness Project. Known inside the Romney campaign as R2P, the project (which I soon joined as director of domestic policy) was an all-out transition team, assigned to help Mitt Romney prepare for the early personnel and policy decisions he would face if he won in November. Although Romney had long since secured the needed delegates to clinch the Republican nomination, when I attended my first R2P meeting, the GOP convention was still six weeks away and the election was fully four months away. Wasn’t it much too soon to start transition planning?
As I quickly learned, however, the project was a function not of hubris but of a new federal law that will forever change the character of presidential transitions. In an effort to address precisely the impossible choice that presidential candidates face between seeming arrogant and being unprepared, Congress passed the Pre-Election Presidential Transition Act of 2010. The law provides government support — in the form of office space, technology, vetting for security clearances, assistance from federal-agency staffs, and funding — to help presidential challengers begin transition efforts upon receiving their parties’ nominations. Previously, federal transition support had been available only after the election was over. The law thus moved the transition timetable up from November to summer, offering several more weeks of crucial preparation time.
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