Democrats and Republicans alike anticipate something of an electoral bloodbath in November, and by everybody’s calculation, Republicans will wind up holding more seats in Congress, the statehouses, and governors’ offices than they do now. The result will surely be to slow the Obama juggernaut, and depending on the outcome, may even reduce the left’s attempt to reshape the country to a crawl.
But before overly optimistic conservatives begin to think that a newly constituted Congress will actually repeal the Democrats’ indiscretions and restore constitutional government, let me throw a little cold water on it all — not on the political results, which may be real enough — but on what more conservative legislators might actually be able to accomplish.
Slowing things down can be done. Undoing what has already been done is much more difficult. Starting back in about the 1960s, liberals began to build stealth systems into everything they enacted — stealth systems to make those programs permanent and almost impossible to disable. The result is what I like to refer to as the ratchet effect of liberal policies: You can move them forward, but once you do, they are almost impossible to move back. It used to be, back in New Deal days, that government just provided assistance to the poor, the sick, and the disabled. But then liberals discovered that you could turn the recipients into constituent groups, you could empower them, make them feel as though they owned the benefit programs, give them money to lobby and litigate for the program, and all this wonderful spending would just go on and on. Obama refers to these constituents as “stakeholders,” and today they include interest groups working on the environment, civil rights, labor unions, health care, abortion rights, legal services for the poor, feminism, homosexual rights, and hundreds of others.
Entitlements consume 60 percent of the budget, and will consume more as time goes on. But they are only part of the problem. Washington is populated by a virtual army of lobbyists, litigators, activists, and advocates (we could call them “organizers”) working nonstop to make the government bigger and more intrusive, usually fed by the taxpayers, closely connected to the bureaucracy and the congressional staff (or former employees themselves). Hundreds of millions of dollars are doled out by the Labor Department to labor union interests, by the Environmental Protection Agency to environmental groups, by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to the “health” lobby — all told, it is estimated that nearly $1 trillion is spent each year nationwide by governments on such efforts. And even worse news is that, thanks to the language in the originating bills, whether Democrats or Republicans are in charge, the same people will get the money.
Nobody knows how many dollars are included in the recently enacted health care legislation to perpetuate the health care legislation, but it is in the billions. Some of it is likely already being doled out to “organizers” to convince the next Congress that it was money well spent. As George Will pointed out recently, the bill includes the following:
“The Secretary of Health and Human Services, in awarding grants and contracts under this section…shall give preferences to entities that have a demonstrated record of training individuals who are from underrepresented minority groups or disadvantaged backgrounds.”
We all know what that means. And there’s a whole lot more where that came from, as our Philip Klein demonstrates in his report this month on the unprecedented powers ObamaCare has bestowed on HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
In 1994, after Republicans took back the House and Senate with much fanfare and announced that the world would change, within a term or two all was back to normal, and in fact hardly anything did change. Ronald Reagan was somewhat more successful, but few things were undone — just overridden. And Reagan was one of the few politicians willing to step on toes and do what he knew had to be done.
It is fine to talk about limited government, and we should continue to do so. But I submit that only an economic disaster of tsunami proportions — which may, in fact, be on the way — will force politicians to address the system.