Tuesday, January 04, 2011

As we watch a new year begin,
let’s review some things from 2010

Commentary by James H. Shott

Here are reminders of what we don’t want to see in the New Year:

● Hey big spender - During the tenure of the 111th Congress the federal government has accumulated $3.22 trillion more in new debt than it did during the first 100 Congresses combined, according to the U.S. Treasury’s official debt figures. That equals $10,429 in new debt for each and every one of the 308.7 million people in the United States, according to the 2010 Census.

The total national debt of nearly $14 trillion as of Dec. 22 now equals $44,886 for every man, woman and child in the United States.

The 111th Congress captured this scandalous spending label from its predecessor, the 110th Congress.

● Better late than never - "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for first-generation ethanol," Al Gore told a clean energy gathering last week in Greece. He called the benefits of ethanol "trivial," adding that "It's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going."

"One of the reasons I made that mistake is that I paid particular attention to the farmers in my home state of Tennessee,” he continued, “and I had a certain fondness for the farmers in the state of Iowa because I was about to run for President."

Mr. Gore finally has admitted that the ethanol program that has caused such turmoil, wasted so much money, and benefitted so few is primarily political, but at least he finally came “clean.”

● Compensation for 9-11 first responders - Last year saw politics being played over the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. You might expect something like this to be a straightforward bill to address a specific problem, but no.

First, it was going to be funded by raising taxes, violating stated Democratic rules that new spending would have to be funded by cuts in other spending. Further, it was poorly written and larded up with $3 billion in pork barrel spending, there were no hearings on the bill, it contained no oversight provisions and no requirement for claimants to provide evidence showing a link between their illnesses and activity at the 9/11 site.

A good purpose, but irresponsibly executed.

● The Imperial Presidency - President Barack Obama has an annoying habit of circumventing the Congress and the Constitution. Although other presidents have dabbled in similar behavior, he has raised it to a high art.

The profusion of “czars”– political decision-makers that are unelected and untouchable by the people, who report to no one but the president — has reached a new high (or low). These czars have the same power as cabinet members, but do not have to go through either a vetting process or Senate confirmation as cabinet members do. The president has authority to appoint such people, but they have no Constitutional regulatory, legislative or law-making powers. Such powers are reserved for the Congress.

The president also has authority to fill open positions while the Senate is in recess, a feature intended to foster efficient operation of the government, but which has been misused by presidents through the years to avoid the confirmation process in the Senate for candidates that are controversial. Mr. Obama will likely give recess appointments to six executive branch officials, bringing to 28 the number of such appointments in his two years. So much for transparency.

Unable to get contentious and dangerous Cap and Trade and Internet Neutrality legislation through Congress, the administration simply ignores the proper method for enacting such measures and imposes new regulations on energy production and the Internet through the Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Communication Commission. The degree of regulation being imposed on Americans without Congressional approval is higher than at any time in at least 50 years, and perhaps higher than ever before.

Our government was designed specifically with power dispersed through three co-equal branches, and a system of checks and balances to prevent any single branch from having too much power.

From time to time presidents must be reminded that they are only the President of the United States, not a King, Emperor or Grand Poobah. The time for a reminder has come.

A fitting reminder can be found in the words of George Washington, who said in November of 1787, less than two months after the US Constitution was signed, “The power under the Constitution will always be in the people. It is entrusted for certain defined purposes, and for a certain limited period, to representatives of their own choosing; and, whenever it is executed contrary to their interest, or not agreeable to their wishes, their servants can and undoubtedly will be recalled.”

More 18th century wisdom comes from Daniel Webster: “It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters.”

We’ve had enough of masters governing us. Now we need public servants.

Cross-posted from Observations

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