WASHINGTON — Our first MBA president is apparently out to be the master of a business administration. With Vice President Dick Cheney as virtual CEO, the White House is now running pretty well on time. Meetings start and end punctually. The New York Times is authority for the fact that the president frowned at Counselor Karen Hughes, arriving 10 minutes late for an Oval Office meeting on Social Security. She had to explain that she was delayed briefing the press on Mr. Cheney's health condition.
There is also a sense that the administration, many of its members former corporate executives, takes a marketing approach to some of its major initiatives. Thus, when opinion polls signaled growing support for a tax cut to boost the economy, the administration struck swiftly for House action on a major component of the reduction.
In supporting congressional overturn of the Clinton workplace safety regulations, the administration displayed a business reaction to a program that would drive up production costs. That argument proved to be more telling than the anticipated increase in costs of healthcare from repetitive stress injuries.
Administration support of legislation making it harder to wipe out debts by declaring bankruptcy was a pro-business decision, facilitated by the millions of dollars the credit card industry gave to the Bush campaign.
On the other hand, the administration can show surprising flexibility when ideology is tempered by a pragmatic marketing approach. Thus, for example, the proposal to channel more government money to religious charities was not testing well among religious groups that were the intended beneficiaries.
The administration slowed up its campaign for a bill authorizing aid to faith-based charities, in effect recalling the legislation for further engineering.
In an area as ideology-laden as the environment, the administration found itself caught between contending business interests. During the campaign, Governor Bush went further than Vice President Al Gore in promising to curb carbon dioxide emissions because of the global warming threat. He found some support for that position among electric utility companies, which are planning to shift to greater use of natural gas.
But his proposal ran into stiff opposition, not only from antiregulation conservatives, but from the coal and oil industries and from automakers worried about being targeted as well. So on Tuesday, President Bush, in a stunning reversal, announced that the government should not impose mandatory carbon dioxide reductions.
In so doing, he violated his own campaign pledge and undercut his Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, who has several times stated that the promise would be kept.
But, hey, this is a business administration, and the only question is which industry to favor.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor