Only three days into his new job as President and of the United States, and George W. Bush is already rolling back health and safety initiatives that are widely supported by Americans. The Washington Post reported today that the new Bush Administration has wasted no time in attempting to turn back the clock on safety standards that protect families from potentially life-threatening contamination and food poisoning.

"Within only hours of taking office, Bush put potentially life-saving safety rules on hold," DNC National Chair Joe Andrew said. "Whether it's imposing new restrictions on women's right to choose or delaying new health, safety and environmental initiatives, Americans are starting to ask what happened to the 'compassionate' George W. Bush they saw on Inauguration Day."

According to the Post, "The regulations called for more stringent testing by plants producing hot dogs, ready-to-eat meats and cheeses to detect listeria bacteria." According to the FDA, listeria causes 2,500 serious illnesses and 500 deaths annually.

Andrew noted that Republicans in the Gingrich Congress also tried to undo the nation's health and safety laws in 1995. "Bush is ripping a page from the Gingrich playbook, when the former Speaker tried to reverse decades of improvements in food safety during the 104th Congress," Andrew said. "Fortunately, President Clinton blocked Republicans' attempt to weaken food safety standards. George W. Bush could put the welfare of the public at risk by delaying these regulations," Andrew said.

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BUSH ACTIONS MIMIC EXTREME REPUBLICAN AGENDA OF YESTERYEAR

Republicans have fought funding and regulation of food safety since 1994. Bush's actions to hold up food safety regulations is another indication of his support for the extreme GOP agenda.

Today's Washington Post reported that, "Meat safety regulations proposed by the Department of Agriculture in the waning hours of the Clinton administration last week are on hold as part of a broad review ordered by President Bush within hours of his taking office, officials said yesterday." (Washington Post, 1/24/01)

Republicans Underfunded Administration's Request for 1998 Food Safety Money. In 1998, the Republican-controlled House only approved $16.8 million for food safety, even though President Clinton requested $101 million for a series of food safety initiatives. (Chicago Sun-Times, 7/20/98)

Republican Senate Rejected President Clinton's Request for Extra Food Safety Funds. Despite recent outbreaks of salmonella in breakfast cereal and deadly strains of E. coli bacteria in meat and juices, a Senate Appropriations subcommittee rejected President Clinton's request for $96 million in funds for new food safety programs in the 1999 budget. Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy (VT) said, "We used to worry about whether or not every child in America got a school lunch. Now we have to worry about whether or not our children can safely eat that lunch." (Washington Post, 6/12/98)

Senate Resistance to Food Safety Funding Held up the Budget. In 1996, Republican resistance to the administration's request for food safety money was one of the issues that held up completion of the budget. (Associated Press, 9/26/96)

In 1995, Republicans Tried to Dismantle Food Safety Regulations. In 1995, Senate Republicans tried to pass a series of bills to dismantle food safety regulations. According to the New York Times, the bills would have had the following effects:

  • "Rules to modernize the meat inspection system -- including microbial testing, scheduled to go into effect next year -- would either be dropped or postponed. The rules were proposed by the Agriculture Department in an effort to prevent an estimated 5 million illnesses and 4,000 deaths each year from meat and poultry tainted with harmful bacteria."
  • "A regulation intended to improve the testing of seafood by the end of year would either be stopped or postponed several years."
  • "The Delaney Clause, which forbids adding even the slightest trace of any known carcinogen to food, would be repealed." President Clinton promised to veto the legislation. (New York Times, 7/3/95)

Republican "Contract With America" Threatened Food Safety. In 1995, House Republicans pushed legislation that threatened food safety. According to a Seattle Post Intelligencer editorial, "... the Republican 'Contract With America' would force the government to do costly, time-consuming cost-benefit tests before issuing any new regulations on meat safety and make it virtually impossible for public health agencies to do their jobs. That gives a whole new meaning to 'regulatory overkill.' ... What is needed is more government oversight of the food supply, not less. Some 4,000 people die each year in this country from tainted food." Even when amendment was offered to exempt food safety regulations from the new restrictions, the House Republicans defeated it. (Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial, 2/27/95; Charleston Gazette editorial, 2/28/95)

Armey Voted to Lay Off or Furlough Nearly 1,000 Food Inspectors. In April 1999, Armey voted for the conference report for the GOP budget resolution (H.Con.Res 68) which would force nearly 1,000 meat and poultry inspectors to be laid off or furloughed. The budget passed 220 to 208. (House CQ Vote #85, 4/14/99; "Republican Budget Fails to Extend Solvency of Social Security and Medicare and Dramatically Cuts Key Priorities," National Economic Council, 3/18/99; "The Republican Budget Proposals," Center on Budget and Policy Proposals, 3/19/99)

Even Republican-Appointed FDA Commissioner Criticized Legislation. In 1995, the Republican-controlled Congress introduced legislation to fight food- safety rules. The Bush-appointed head of the Food and Drug Administration, David Kessler, said, "These proposals are an assault on 40 years of consumer protection. It's one thing to eliminate unnecessary burdens on business. It's another thing to compromise longstanding health and safety standards." (New York Times, 7/3/95)

Bush's Hometown Paper Criticized Republican's Attempts to Gut Food Safety Regulations. In 1995, and editorial in the Austin American-Statesman said, "Unlike people in some countries, Americans have been able to rely on the safety of the food they buy at the grocery store. The main reason is federal regulation. Now the new Republican -dominated Congress wants to make drastic changes in food safety rules. Some of these would go too far and President Clinton should veto them if they are passed. Certainly, federal regulations can be burdensome on business. But in the rush to deregulate there is a danger of ignoring the very reason for food safety rules -- the public health. The public health is of utmost importance. That is why food regulations are based on protecting the public, not necessarily on the effect they would have on farmers and other producers. ... The Agriculture Department estimates that 5 million illnesses and 4,000 deaths are caused annually by contaminated meat and poultry. ... Here's a couple of cost-benefit questions for re-election- minded members of Congress and President Clinton: How many children do you think we should let be poisoned to avoid increased costs to drug manufacturers? How many cases of food poisoning do you think the public should endure in order to keep an antique and inadequate meat-inspection system? Public health and safety should not be sacrificed on the altar of deregulation." (Austin American-Statesman, 7/11/95)