Common Sense Conservatism: The Size of Government

Conservatives, including Republicans and Libertarians, believe in small government. But how many Americans truly understand what that means? Many Liberals point to our support of smaller government, and say that conservatives are against any and all government aid to those less fortunate among us. The fact is the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government limited powers, and they routinely overstep their authority at our expense. The Constitution clearly states that any rights and responsibilities not expressly given to the federal government, fall to the states and to the people. Over the years, the federal government has put its hands in just about everything – all paid for by us. Regardless of political ideology, the growth of government produces costly and inefficient government, constantly at odds with our definition of freedom.

Let’s play a game. I want you to think of a number – the amount of money you spend on stamps each year to send mail through the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). If you’re like me you’ve switched to online banking and other technologically efficient methods of paying bills, but even I use snail mail 4-5 times per month. At 44 cents per stamp that’s around $25/year, give or take.

Have you figured out your number? Great, now I’d like you to increase it by $26.81. Of course you may be asking why your total is $26.81 higher for no reason, and I’m glad you asked. That’s the amount of DEBT the U.S. Postal Service incurred last year, per taxpayer. So if you’re a tax payer who mails 4-5 letters per month, you’re actually paying 88 cents per stamp instead of 44. The USPS has actually accrued $11.8 billion in debt over the past three years. Too bad there’s a law preventing competition with the Post Office. Welcome to big government.

Have you ever taken a ride on an Amtrak train? If you haven’t, you’re really missing out! Amtrak offers rail service to millions of Americans nationwide, complete with rundown equipment, surly conductors and consistently late arrivals. Just the level of efficiency you’d expect from a government-run outfit. One thing you may not know is that Amtrak is in debt, costing taxpayers an astounding $32 every time a passenger boards a train. That’s right! Amtrak costs the government, meaning you, $32 per passenger in subsidies. Pretty crazy, huh? Well, you didn’t think incompetence was cheap, did you? The most alarming example of this incompetence is the $462 in subsidies per passenger on the Sunset Limited route from New Orleans to Los Angeles. Tickets for this route are several hundred dollars even with the government subsidy, and 72,000 passengers use it per year! Has anyone ever heard of Southwest Airlines? $304 round-trip, no cost to tax payers!

By now everyone has heard of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. These two Government-Sponsored Enterprises (GSEs) had a very large role in our current economic woes. In 1977, Democrats passed the Community Reinvestment Act, designed to increase lending from banks to low-income people in their community. Home ownership was at 63% in 1993 and by the end of the Clinton administration it had increased to 68%. According to the American Spectator, the New York Times “reported in 1999 that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were under pressure from the Clinton administration to increase lending to minorities and low-income home buyers.” Many of these home-buyers could not afford monthly payments unless they were given extremely low interest rates, thus the Adjustable Rate Mortgage was the perfect solution. With low introductory rates, buyers could afford monthly payments. Even though they were told their rates could go up, that was an afterthought to having their own home. When those rates did go up, the payments were no longer affordable, and people began to default. These mortgages were then traded on the open market as mortgage-backed securities – only as good as the mortgages themselves. Thus when the mortgages were defaulted on, widespread financial turmoil ensued as many banks, financial institutions, hedge funds and 401k plans invested in them.

In mid-2008, before the economic collapse, Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) said Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were fiscally sound. He said they were good long-term investments. These two GSEs owned almost half of all mortgages, and when those loans started going belly-up, so did our economy. Barney Frank then co-authored the new Financial Reform Bill which was passed into law, giving the government unprecedented control over the financial industry – and it doesn’t cover Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac! How much sense does that make? Now Congress is considering a bailout for these two mortgage giants. It’s a wonder Barney Frank still has a job.

When I was a little kid I remember commercials advocating for healthy eating habits. They talked about the four food groups and the importance of fruit and vegetables. There was even one with a horse that brushed his teeth to avoid gingivitis. I can’t imagine ever having a problem with the government advocating for healthy eating habits or good hygiene. However, today our government no longer wants to be an advocate, they want to be the enforcer. A segment of the big government crowd wants to ban trans-fats and sodium from the food we eat, remove toys from kid’s meals, and tax unhealthy food like soda and candy.

I won’t sit here and pretend that trans-fats are healthy, or that high sodium makes for a good dietary choice. But is it the government’s role to prevent us from making our own decisions? Don’t I have the freedom to choose between a KFC combo meal and an all-organic salad bar meal from Whole Foods? What problems are solved by legislating healthy choices? Is it the toy in the Happy Meal that is harmful to children? Or is it the fact that parents choose a McDonald’s Drive-thru over cooking an actual meal? How about this made-up headline: “Toys banned in Happy Meals; Calories decrease by zero.” Meanwhile, if I want to choose some heart-healthy pomegranate juice over a soda I pay three times as much! The government should be an advocate, not an enforcer. It doesn’t have the right.

The government is even involved in the cars we buy. CAFE standards are designed to increase average MPG among car companies, resulting in increased cost for vehicles and making it harder for car companies to turn a profit. Those costs, combined with unrealistic compensation packages for their union employees, led to a collapse of Ford, GM and Chrysler and costing thousands of American jobs in the Rust Belt. Furthermore, these standards have forced automakers to produce far lighter vehicles (about 500lbs lighter), which result in a 1.1% increase in fatalities per 100lb decrease in vehicle weight, and a 1.6% increase in serious or moderate injuries per 100 lb decrease in vehicle weight. The government’s own National Highway Traffic Safety Administration admits that the doubling of fuel efficiency between 1975 and 1985 resulted in average weight being reduced by 1,000 lbs, causing 2,000 additional deaths and 20,000 additional serious or moderate injuries. Where’s the outrage? Not only has CAFE been disastrous for Americans who get into accidents, but it has done NOTHING to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil, as it has increased from 35% to 50% since CAFE was implemented. Furthermore, penalties incurred by car manufacturers for failing to meet these standards are passed on to consumers. According to the NHSTA, this has amounted to $654 million since 1983.

President Obama’s stimulus package cost more than the entire Iraq War, and failed. His trillion-dollar health care reform law doesn’t do a single thing to control health care costs, instead premiums are going up all over the country. His Cap and Trade bill threatens to kill manufacturer jobs, sending more U.S. companies overseas to escape oppressive regulations and financial penalties simply for existing. The government continually oversteps its bounds and sends us the bill. The list of unfunded mandates passed onto the states is too long to list. Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the provisions in the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act are just a few policies passed by the federal government, with the insurmountable cost hoisted onto the backs of individual states that are going bankrupt under their weight.

When it comes to the actual responsibilities of the federal government, it has a spotty record. The government has failed to secure our borders and deal with illegal immigration, yet it sued Arizona when the state tried to make up for the government’s negligence.

When the 13 colony-states established the federal government it limited its powers, to avoid the very situation they escaped from in England. Each state was supposed to retain its autonomy on matters that were not of national concern. Conservatives believe in this arrangement as laid out in the U.S. Constitution. The federal government shouldn’t tell us which light bulbs to buy or what to eat, nor should it tell us who we can and cannot enter into a relationship with. It shouldn’t take our money for programs and services that it has no right to create, nor should it tell private industry how to run a business. The larger government becomes, the smaller the individual is.

So here we are approaching the 2010 midterm elections. Democrats are in trouble, because they haven’t been listening to the American people. They’re in trouble because they’ve continued to grow the size of the federal government at a time when our country is already $14 trillion in debt. Democrats aren’t afraid of running out of money, because they can simply raise our taxes. They’ve even managed to convince some people that taxes are necessary in order to continue providing goods and services. But increasing taxes on those of us who still have jobs, or on businesses that are still open, does nothing to fix our economy and put people back to work. It only serves to keep the government from realizing it needs to STOP!

Small government principles are good for everyone. Keep government small. Keep it out of our lives. Keep it out of our pockets. The solution to our problems isn’t higher taxes, it’s less spending; it isn’t bigger government, it is smaller government; and it isn’t government in every aspect of our lives – it’s FREEDOM.