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The Danger of Bringing Back Big Government (Washington Examiner) May 19, 2021

Posted by daviddavenport in Op/Eds.

In the debate between liberals and conservatives, the role of government is a favorite topic. After decades of growth in the size and role of the federal government, Ronald Reagan famously began his presidency in the 1980s by saying, “Government is not the solution to our problems; government is the problem.” Even Democrat Bill Clinton acknowledged in the 1990s that “the era of big government is over.”

Well, big government is back in the 2020s. President Joe Biden is proposing nearly $6 trillion in new government spending, doubling the entire federal budget for 2021. Biden told Congress and the nation last month, “We have to prove that government still works and can deliver for our people.” COVID-19 relief, infrastructure, education, child care, unemployment relief — seemingly nothing is beyond the scope of Biden’s federal government. Increased federal powers and spending from the coronavirus crisis are rolling forward into all aspects of life.

One way to measure the size of government, of course, is to look at federal spending, and here, Biden is on track to set new records. But the fact is that when Republicans were in power, they, too, frequently overspent as well. Even Ronald Reagan, who preached cutting government size and spending, was only able to slow the rate of increase. People are numb to the burgeoning size of the federal debt.

A better way to look at big government, especially in these times, is how much of our lives and activities it moves into and ultimately takes over. If people have come to accept the size of big government, it is the role of the federal government where we need to hold the line.Recommended Video

To put the matter sharply into focus, we have come to accept a government role in retirement (Social Security) and healthcare (Medicare, Medicaid, Obamacare). Now, Biden would add a major role in education, from child care and preschool to college, to the federal portfolio. Moreover, his broad ideas about infrastructure include everything from climate change to the internet, his beloved Amtrak, home caregiving, and even semiconductors. This is a massive expansion of the federal footprint.

Take education, for example, which has long been a state and local, not a federal, matter. President George W. Bush, with bipartisan leadership from Sen. Ted Kennedy, greatly expanded the federal role in K-12 education by the adoption of the No Child Left Behind law in 2002 and its regimen of federal testing and consequences. It is one of few cases in which a federal takeover of state powers was turned back: When No Child Left Behind was not renewed, it was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015.https://d9376e5f5b5d530c995789eb0fe5cf8b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Now, Biden would expand the federal role in education again by spending huge sums of money to increase child care, preschool, and K-12 education. Biden would grow the Department of Education budget by an astonishing 41%. Forgiveness of student college debt, another huge policy change, is still on the table. As we should have learned from No Child Left Behind, all that extra federal spending in education will greatly increase Washington’s role in K-12 policies and programs.

Similarly, the infrastructure bill inserts Washington into all kinds of issues that have been the purview of either states, individuals, or markets. We would all expect infrastructure to include work on roads, bridges, and water systems, and the bill does. But do we really need the federal government guaranteeing “high speed broadband to all Americans”? Is home caregiving truly a part of the nation’s infrastructure, which requires spending and involvement by Washington? Aren’t idle buildings and electrifying vehicles questions for industry or urban areas, not our nation’s capital?

All this massive new federal spending comes at exactly the wrong time with inflation already on the rise. But the greater danger is moving the federal government into everything from home healthcare to electric vehicles and beyond. That is the kind of big government we need to turn back.

To read the column at the Washington Examiner:


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