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Barb Wire

Can America Return to a Government that Governs Best?


A recent op-ed in the Wall Street Journal lamented that an unelected, career-bureaucrat in the Federal Drug Administration has created nearly 200 rules and regulations that people must obey.

Progressives want government bureaucrats, whom they imagine to be “impartial,” to issue rules and regulations because they are supposedly free from political influence. The problem is, all rules and regulations are political by nature. That is, they are someone’s subjective decision in a political process about what should be permitted, what should not and whether other conditions should be imposed.

The Constitution provides for federal rules and regulations to be created by elected politicians and by officers appointed and confirmed by them for that specific purpose.

It is fantasy to think that these things can be removed from the world of political pressure. To believe they can be ignores the personal politics of unelected bureaucrats, and the politics of any interests groups and individuals exerting influence on them through communications, media or affiliation in professional organizations. Incidentally, in many cases, voters are systematically distanced from influencing bureaucrats, intentionally.

If progressives were honest about wanting to limit political pressure from government decisions, they would do well to recall Thomas Jefferson’s words: “That government is best which governs least.”

As long as America remains a system of electing people to manage its government, political influence will remain in the equation, either as legitimately envisioned by elected representatives, who are influenced by voters, or illegitimately by unelected bureaucrats, who are influenced by whatever and whoever influences them.

As we can infer from Jefferson’s advice, the one sure way to limit influence of all kinds is to limit the opportunities for influence.

That can be done only by limiting the size and scope of government. The more government does, the more reason there is for influencers to influence politicians and bureaucrats. The less government does, the less the need to influence its rule- and regulation-makers.

The Federal Register, the government’s published log of rules, proposed rules and notices, increased to an all-time record of 95,894 pages in 2016, a 19.5% increase over the previous year. That’s a lot of fodder for political pressure.

If progressives really want to get money out of politics, one of their perpetual grievances, they could take a giant step by eliminating the need for it. Billions of dollars are spent to elect political candidates who pass laws that are the basis for many rules and regulations.

At least politicians are theoretically responsible to the people who put them in office. Moreover, the less that politicians do in office, the less the need to raise large sums to elect them. If these politicians do too much with their authority, they are subject to being voted out of office.

Bureaucrats, by contrast, are virtually unaccountable, often shielded by civil service laws, ostensibly to protect them from losing their jobs every time a new administration is elected. But a host of other laws, rules, regulations and union contracts already provide far more job security for these public servants than most Americans enjoy in the private sector.

One conservative estimate puts the price tag for attempting to remove federal government workers for cause at hundreds of millions of dollars in litigation and manpower. And that’s when the bureaucratic chain of command deigns to recognize that the employees constitute a problem.

What do you do with an unaccountable bureaucrat who exceeds his authority, if you can’t fire him?

A lawsuit filed Jan. 30 by Pacific Legal Foundation in Texas, Minnesota and the District of Columbia seeks to provide that answer by invalidating rules promulgated by career-level bureaucrats not specifically appointed and confirmed by elected politicians for that function. That would be a good, albeit small, improvement.

Ideally, the United States’ federal government should be constrained to do only what the Bible says God ordains civil government to do – suppress evil and punish evil doers – and nothing else. Less ideally, but still a monumental improvement, would be to limit the federal government to those few enumerated powers specified in the Constitution.

Alas, the federal government’s rules, laws and other actions, as published annually in the Federal Register, increase by thousands of pages. Every year.

The lesson here is that there’s no way to take political influence out of the political process. But we know political influence can be less pervasive than it is today because it used to be.

The question is, does either political party really want to reverse the accelerating vastness of the federal government, let alone the growing influence of money and unaccountable, career-bureaucrats? If they really wanted to limit billion-dollar electioneering and unaccountable government, wouldn’t they have already downsized the governmental beast that enables those transgressions?


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