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The Nation

With Senate on break, Bush appoints officials

The three, including a contentious regulatory director, most likely would not have been approved by lawmakers.

April 05, 2007|Joel Havemann | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — President Bush on Wednesday appointed as his top regulatory official a conservative academic who has written that markets do a better job of regulating than the government does and that it is more cost-effective for people who are sensitive to pollution to stay indoors on smoggy days than for government to order polluters to clean up their emissions.

As director of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, Susan E. Dudley will have an opportunity to change or block all regulations proposed by government agencies.

In a flurry of nominations and appointments, Bush also named a researcher at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank in Washington, as deputy director of the Social Security Administration. Andrew G. Biggs has been an outspoken proponent of converting Social Security benefits into self-directed retirement accounts, which Bush favors but Democrats have stopped cold. Bush nominated Biggs to that post in November, but the process stalled in February when the Senate Finance Committee refused to hold confirmation hearings because of his views on privatization.

And as ambassador to Belgium he installed Sam Fox, a St. Louis businessman and GOP fundraiser who contributed $50,000 to the Swift Boat veterans' controversial campaign against Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) in the 2004 presidential race. The White House actually withdrew Fox's nomination to that same job last week in the face of strong opposition from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

With the Senate on its spring break, all three received "recess appointments," under which they can serve without Senate confirmation until the 110th Congress adjourns in late 2008 or early 2009, almost at the end of the Bush administration. Their nominations might have failed had they gone through the confirmation process.

Bush has used recess appointments more than 100 times, often to get around a recalcitrant Senate. In perhaps his most controversial such appointment, he named John R. Bolton as ambassador to the United Nations in 2005. Bolton served until late last year, when the 109th Congress adjourned and he was constitutionally required to step down.

Although Dudley's new job is more obscure than those to which Biggs and Fox were appointed, it also is potentially the most powerful. The budget office's regulatory shop acts as a funnel for all regulations emanating throughout the government.

In congressional testimony, Dudley has favored dispensing with costly air pollution controls and initiating a pollution warning system "so that sensitive individuals can take appropriate 'exposure avoidance' behavior" -- mostly by remaining inside.

She opposed stricter limits on arsenic in drinking water, in part because she argued that the Environmental Protection Agency's calculations of the costs and benefits overvalued some lives, particularly those of older people with a small life expectancy.

She has argued that air bags should not be required by government regulation but requested by automobile consumers who are willing to pay extra for them.

Rick Melberth, director of regulatory policy for the watchdog group OMB Watch, called Dudley a "terrible pick." He described her as "an anti-regulatory extremist" who believed that the proper regulatory lever was the free market, "and if the market doesn't protect you, too bad."

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, called her a "radical reactionary" who favored business over public protection.

Dudley, who recently resigned as an expert on government regulation at the Mercatus Center, a free-market think tank at George Mason University, was first nominated to the post in July.

At her Senate confirmation hearings in November, she said she was "fair and open-minded, and will listen to all who want to have a say."

As an academic, she said, she has had the luxury of being encouraged to "think outside the box."

Some of her writings, she acknowledged, have been "provocative, with the goal of challenging the way people think about the consequences of regulation."

"If confirmed, however, I will have a different role. The [regulatory] administrator is responsible for implementing the laws of the land as Congress has written them."

Her nomination stalled because the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which held the hearing, didn't vote on it.

Dudley was unavailable for comment Wednesday, as were leading senators on the committee. But Leslie Phillips, the committee's communications director, criticized Bush for making an end run.

The recess appointment, she said, "shows disrespect for the advise-and-consent responsibilities of the U.S. Senate and for the American people, on whose behalf the president acts. The power to recess appoint should not be used to avoid any scrutiny of presidential nominees."

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joel.havemann@latimes.com

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