Friday, March 21, 2008

The Cost of Federal Commandments

“There are now some 200,000 full-time government employees writing and enforcing federal commandments.” —WSJ Editors (here)

President Bush ran for office as a “compassionate conservative.” The translation of this is that he believes in big government as well as moral conservatism. It means that he is so concerned about helping the less fortunate (an ever expanding definition) that he is willing to spend your money in a big way to do it, and that he is concerned enough about morality that he is willing to enforce it via government.

With the advent of the current presidency, the Reagan ideal of smaller government went out the window. The result is reported by the WSJ editors. “The cost of new regulations has increased every year on Mr. Bush's watch, but last year was by far the highest.”

OK, you say, so we’re regulating like we’ve never regulated before. What’s the big deal? “The Small Business Administration calculates that the total cost in 2005 of complying with 145,000 pages of federal rules and procedures was $1.1 trillion,” write the editors. “This is the rough economic equivalent of imposing a second federal income tax on the economy.”

Think of how much you paid in federal taxes last year. No, not the amount of your tax refund. The amount of total tax (before applying withholding and payments) on your return. Consider the fact that to satisfy federal regulations you are paying that much more for the goods and services you purchase each year. It’s a hidden tax, but you are paying it.

Republicans have traditionally railed on Democrats for creating costly and burdensome regulations. For the past seven years the GOP has been working hard to erase any distinction between the two parties on this score.

Lest you think we’re just about out of the woods, consider the fact that administrations tend to go crazy adding new regulations in the final year of a president’s tenure. Also consider the fact that of the three major contenders for becoming our next president, all of them have bought into “the mother lode of new intervention: the capping of CO2 and other greenhouse gases from motor vehicles and electric utilities, which could have net costs in the hundreds of billions of dollars.”

This kind of thing is the antithesis of what a struggling economy needs to turn around and thrive. Government regulations are insidious because their implementation and cost are invisible to most voters. And when a voter is impacted, no one can be found that is actually accountable for these oppressive rules. Congress happily passes the responsibility for this kind of under-the-radar legislation on to faceless, nameless bureaucrats.

Land of the free? Not if our “compassionate” politicians have their way.

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