The Solution: Smaller Government

by Doug Payton

"When all governments, domestic and foreign, in little as in great things, shall be drawn to Washington as a center of power, it will render powerless the checks provided by one government over another and it will be become just as venal and oppressive as the government from which we separated." - Thomas Jefferson

One of the issues that Republicans brought to the forefront with the "Contract With America" was the problem of the size of government. "Smaller government" became the reason for block grants to the states, the push for IRS reform and a host of other initiatives.

Bill Clinton then, right on cue, tried to sound Republican by using this phrase as his own, but as usual twisting it’s meaning. While the Republicans meant fewer regulations, fewer unnecessary government departments and more power in the hands of the states, Clinton redefined it to mean fewer actual employees in government. While that is certainly a good cause, it’s a far cry from what the phrase was meant to signify. Yet Clinton eagerly allowed folks to think his actions were equivalent to what Republicans wanted, the classic example being the State of the Union address where the phrase "The era of big government is over" was followed by descriptions of more and more big government programs.

Most people, I think, if asked if they wanted a larger federal government with more control and power, would say "No". But consider what big government is. Big government is the federalizing of the public education system that threatens to wrest more and more control of local schools from the local school board and parents. Instead, it brings the control to Washington where the individual needs of a district are swept under the rug in favor of the "big picture". Big government is when the federal government can manipulate states to pass certain laws by threatening to withhold tax dollars. It’s big government that is trying desperately to get you to accept the idea that "It takes a village", rather than a family, to raise your children, and then tries to be that village and subvert parental authority. It was big government that tried to hijack the entire health care industry by creating 50+ new bureaucracies to tell you which doctors you could go to and penalize you if you dared make your own choice. And it’s big government that requires you to obtain a Social Security number (a program designed for retirement) for your 2-year-old so they can keep tabs on them, even though they won’t be paying Social Security taxes for over a decade. If you say you don’t want more and more government, yet you support federal power-grabs such as these, you may need to do some reevaluation. Programs and policies such as these always result in less power to the individual or locality, and thus less personal choice and freedom.

So what would smaller government actually gain us? What sort of problems would it solve? If smaller government is the answer, what is the question? Here are just a few examples.

The IRS: Why is the IRS so powerful, so feared, yet so coddled by politicians on all sides? It’s because it wields the most powerful club in Washington: Money, and boatloads of it. If the government feeds on money, the IRS is its jaws. Assuming no change in the tax code, smaller government would require less money and require less of an IRS to get the job done. The smaller the federal government, the less bite the IRS would have. As an example, if you pay state income tax then ask yourself if you’re more concerned about the Federal IRS or your state and local revenue tax collectors. And also ask yourself which tax form is easier to fill out; federal or state?

Government Waste - Social Programs: If you give a dollar to a homeless person, they get a dollar. If you get taxed a dollar for a government program for the homeless, they get about a quarter. Liberals seem to think the former is greedy while the latter is compassionate. They don’t trust you to be generous with your own money, so better to tax you and get that quarter then let you decide what to do with it. Smaller federal government that left local problems to local authorities would allow more of that tax money to make it to those who need it, rather than to an extra layer or three of bureaucrats. It would also let you keep more of your own money for you to be compassionate with. True compassion comes from people, who give of themselves when they give money they’ve earned themselves, not governments, who give only what they can take from those who earned it.

Government Waste - Pork-Barrel Legislation: A government that has less to work with is far less likely to waste taxpayer money on pet projects when passing unrelated legislation. A leaner government would produce leaner bills. Pork is passed because there is money available to pay for it.

Government Waste - Billions of Dollars Lost: In a letter to Congress on March 31, 1998, the head of the General Accounting Office, James F. Hinchman wrote, "In summary, significant financial systems weaknesses, problems with fundamental recordkeeping, incomplete documentation and weak internal controls, including computer controls, prevent the government from accurately reporting a large portion of its assets, liabilities, and costs." Mr. Hinchman was referring to the more than $100 billion worth of journal entries ("unreconciled transactions") that were required to repair the books, the $10 billion in Pentagon "problem disbursements" (payments that can’t be matched to contracts), the misplacement of items such as missile launchers and F-18 jet engines, the $900 million a year that HUD makes in overpayments on rent subsidies, and the $23 billion in overpayments on Medicare made by the Health Care Financing Administration. It goes without saying that these are perfect examples of the ills of big government.

Government Corruption: Power corrupts, so the saying goes, and nowhere does it go better than in Washington. At all levels, the misuses of power are evident; legislative favors, pork-barrel deals, politically motivated official appointments, lobbyist money, and the list goes on. The reason power corrupts is that it is such a potent tool, and reducing the size of federal government would decentralize that power to the states, and from the states to county & local governments. Each government would have true jurisdiction within its sphere (without the meddling Feds micromanaging), and the people would have more power to decide how they would be governed; local solutions for local problems made by local citizens. This is the decentralized government that the founding fathers outlined in the Constitution, because, as Jefferson mentions above, they knew what a government that was too centralized would foster; oppression, much akin to what we fought a revolutionary war over.

The federal government of these United States was meant to be decentralized. It was meant to be the glue between state governments, not the vice surrounding them. The common-sense idea of local solutions to local problems is completely subverted when the government shoehorns everyone into a one-size-fits-all solution. It simply doesn’t work that way.

The problem is a government out of control, unresponsive to its constituents and too much a power unto itself rather than being a government "of the people". The solution is smaller government.

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