Shrinking federal government won’t be easy

Published 11:55 am Thursday, December 22, 2016

There is an ongoing battle over the proper size and role of the federal government. Most of us believe that many issues are not amenable to a national “one size fits all” approach. Voters have indeed made it clear that they are angry and frustrated with intrusion by the federal government into local issues.

In 2016, 97 percent of the House incumbents were re-elected. Ninety-six percent of the congressional seats stayed in the same party, which does not suggest “change” is likely. Also arguing against change is the massive size of the total number of people employed for enforcement of federal regulations, which is over 16 million full time workers. That is larger than the population of our five largest cities (NYC, L.A, Chicago, Houston & Philadelphia).

Federal regulatory costs reached $1.885 trillion in 2015 (nearly $15,000 per U.S. household). That figure is more than the total raised by individual income taxes ($1.478 trillion).  

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Washington has become the servant of the wealthy and special interest groups who are most able to influence our politicians and bureaucrats. Don’t expect that the states will be able to take back any control, because Congress has turned state legislatures into support agencies through grants and underfunded federal mandates.   

Our best chance for achieving the needed changes is through the provisions in the Constitution. Article V of the Constitution gives states the power to call a convention to consider changes to amend the Constitution. Any proposed amendment(s) would be sent to the 50 states for ratification. Three-quarters of the states (38) must agree. Achieving an effective limit on federal power will require balancing very difficult tradeoffs on the form and degree of the Constitutional restraints.

Currently there is a petition for a constitutional convention that has been signed by 32 of the required 34 states. That petition calls for a mandatory balanced budget. If proposed, the amendment would face significant resistance. A balanced budget, every year would risk a tipping weak economy into recession.

I think that such an amendment would need to allow more flexibility in its spending restraints. A better option would be to incorporate other  constraints  such as term limits on the members of congress and/or limits on private financing of federal elections that make politicians beholden to their affluent donors.

A growing economy needs reduced federal control of businesses to allow profitable pursuit of innovation, which is going to be necessary as our workforce ages and shrinks.

Dave Fairchild