WASHINGTON — Transition advisers to President-elect Barack Obama have compiled a list of about 200 Bush administration actions and executive orders that could be swiftly undone to reverse White House policies on climate change, stem cell research, reproductive rights and other issues, according to congressional Democrats, campaign aides and experts working with the transition team.
A team of four dozen advisers, working for months in virtual solitude, set out to identify regulatory and policy changes Obama could implement soon after his inauguration. The team is now consulting with liberal advocacy groups, Capitol Hill staffers and potential agency chiefs to prioritize those they regard as the most onerous or ideologically offensive, said a top transition official who was not permitted to speak on the record about the inner workings of the transition.
In some instances, Obama would be quickly delivering on promises he made during his two-year campaign, while in others he would be embracing Clinton-era policies upended by President Bush during his eight years in office.
"The kind of regulations they are looking at" are those imposed by Bush for "overtly political" reasons, in pursuit of what Democrats say was a partisan Republican agenda, said Dan Mendelson, a former associate administrator for health in the Clinton administration's Office of Management and Budget.
The list of executive orders targeted by Obama's team could get longer in coming days, as Bush's appointees are rushing to enact a number of last-minute policies in an effort to extend his legacy.
No plans for regulatory changes have been finalized. "Before he makes any decisions on potential executive or legislative actions, he will be conferring with congressional leaders on both sides of the aisle, as well as interested groups," Obama transition spokeswoman Stephanie Cutter said.
Still, the pre-election transition team, comprising mainly lawyers, has positioned the incoming president to move fast on high-priority items without waiting for Congress.
Also, his choice for White House chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, said Sunday that Obama plans to push ahead with a middle-class tax cut soon after taking office.
Emanuel also hinted that Obama would not postpone a tax increase for families earning more than $250,000 a year despite the deepening economic gloom. He said Obama's proposals would reduce taxes for 95 percent of working Americans by an average of $1,000 each, resulting in "a net tax cut" for the overall economy.
Stem cell research
Obama himself has signaled that he intends to reverse Bush's controversial limit on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research, a decision that scientists say has restrained research into some of the most promising avenues for defeating a wide array of diseases such as Parkinson's. Bush's August 2001 decision pleased religious conservatives who have moral objections to the use of cells from days-old human embryos, which are destroyed in the process.
Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo., said that during Obama's final swing through her state in October, she reminded him that because the restrictions were never included in legislation, Obama "can simply reverse them by executive order." Obama, she said, "was very receptive to that." Opponents of the restrictions have already drafted an executive order he could sign.
The new president is also expected to lift a so-called global gag rule barring international family planning groups that receive U.S. aid from counseling women about the availability of abortion, even in countries where the procedure is legal, said Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. When Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he rescinded the Reagan-era regulation, known as the Mexico City Policy, but Bush reimposed it.
"We have been communicating with his transition staff" almost daily, Richards said. "We expect to see a real change."
The president-elect has said that he intends to quickly reverse the Bush administration's decision in December to deny California the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from automobiles. "Effectively tackling global warming demands bold and innovative solutions, and given the failure of this administration to act, California should be allowed to pioneer," Obama said in January.
California had sought permission from the Environmental Protection Agency to require that greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles be cut by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, effectively mandating that cars achieve a fuel economy standard of at least 36 miles per gallon within eight years. Seventeen other states had promised to adopt California's rules.
"Some related reforms embraced by Obama's transition advisers would alter procedures for decision-making on climate issues. A book titled Change for America, being published soon by the Center for American Progress, an influential liberal think tank, will recommend, for example, that Obama rapidly create a National Energy Council to coordinate all policymaking related to global climate change.
The center's influence with Obama is substantial: It was created by former Clinton White House official John Podesta, a co-chairman of the transition effort, and much of its staff has been swept into planning for Obama's first 100 days in office.
The National Energy Council would be a counterpart to the White House National Economic Council that Clinton created in a 1993 executive order. "It would make sure all the oars are rowing in the right direction" and ensure that climate change policy "gets lots of attention inside the White House," said Daniel Weiss, a former Sierra Club official and senior fellow with the Center for American Progress Action Fund.
Other early Obama initiatives may address the need for improved food and drug regulation, chart a new course for immigration enforcement and reverse domestic drilling for oil and natural gas on public land in Utah, some Obama advisers say. But they add that only a portion of his early efforts will be aimed at undoing Bush initiatives.