back in session

Rested and ruddy-faced from their August Recess (or "working vacation"), the occupants of the White House and the Capitol are back at their desks today, earnestly trying to serve the greater civic good, or at least prevent anyone in a different party from doing so.

First on the agenda for the Senate is Bush's department of homeland defense, which Bush wants to exempt from certain labor union regulations. At least, that's what I understand, but frankly I haven't read or heard anything concrete about what Bush means when he says he needs "managerial flexibility" to run the new department.

CNN (which incidentally is running a weird-slash-eerie graphic of Bush's head and a map of Iraq) has a story on the debate, in which it's noted that Bush wants the power, as he apparently has in other agencies, to suspend employee collective bargaining in situations of national security. Presumably, then, that means all the time. The suggestion made by Republican senators is that the current language of the Senate bill strips Bush of this power, but this is never made explicit.

If the power to suspend collective bargaining is a part of the standard package of Presidential authority, well, fine. Democratic senators are understandably nervous about the consolidation of employees from so many agencies, but if the suspension of employees' collective bargaining rights is a possibility even if they're not brought under the umbrella of a single defense agency, I'm not sure I understand the big deal.

That said, allow me to fulfill my pledge to grumble and gripe about the Bush administration at every opportunity. If the power to suspend bargaining is a standard ability of the President, why are he and his platoon of loyal foot soldier senators foaming at the mouth about "managerial flexibility?" Phil Gramm calls it "reorganization flexibility" and "personnel flexibility," while Bush argues that he needs "the flexibility to put the right people at the right place at the right time to protect the American people" (see for more eloquent remarks), and Tom Ridge argues that, "the president needs the flexibility to move people and resources around."

Is the suggestion that Bush, sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, will be reviewing applications for the new department? Will he be signing transfer slips to move needed coast guard divers from Maine to Connecticut? Will he be diverting funds from ball-point pens to staples? I know he is part of the vaunted CEO Administration (which is noted in interesting New Yorker essay to be composed primarily of free-market advocates with precious little experience in genuinely competetive markets), but all this "managerial flexibility" sounds a lot like micro-management, and why the hell would Bush want to do that?

Finally, if flexibility is really just jargon in Bush's service, why isn't anybody calling him on it? If it's just about a clash between the administration and the Senate, why has nobody in the senate thrown down? Somehow, our straight-talkin' president seems to have trapped all of Capitol Hill in the same, small, vocabulary bubble.