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Spring Clean Government

A Commentary By John Stossel

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Spring cleaning is a healthy tradition. If only politicians did it!   

They don't.    

When Barack Obama ran for president, he promised to clean house, "I'm not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it's there. There are some that don't work."   

I cheered when I heard that! But politicians (SET ITAL) always (END ITAL) say they'll get rid of waste. Then, once in power, they spend (SET ITAL) more (END ITAL). Obama sure has.    

"We just need to cut back!" said Obama, the candidate. He promised to end "waste at the Economic Development Agency and the Export-Import Bank that's become little more than a fund for corporate welfare." Good for him. Yet both programs thrive: The Ex-Im Bank just gave another $8 billion to Boeing, and the EDA spent $2 million to build a wine-tasting room and "culinary amphitheater."    

Taxpayers were also forced to give $150,000 to promote a puppet festival on Long Island, $98,000 to build an outhouse in Alaska, and a million dollars to "study the influence of romance through novels and film."   

Both the left and right denounce the other party's spending, but expensive waste is supported by both. Neither party makes much effort to cut farm subsidies or NASA -- or to end subsidies for big corporations, the people who need it least. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is the rare conservative critic of waste who doesn't spare the military. On my show this week, he points out that the Pentagon destroyed $7 billion worth of weapons in Afghanistan and Iraq instead of shipping them home.     "That just shows you the inefficiency," says Coburn.    

Mattie Duppler, of Americans for Tax Reform, likens recipients of government handouts to ticks that suck the populace's blood.    

Welfare for businesses is even more harmful than welfare for poor people, because it kills the free enterprise that creates real prosperity. "When you've got government putting its thumb on the scale," says Duppler, "saying this business deserves more attention, more money, more government support than another one, that's ... the centrally planned economy."   

Centrally planned economies bring stagnation and poverty.   

Many people concerned about big government focus on high taxes. High taxes are bad, but I worry more about the spending. Spending is a tax. Since government has no money of its own, the spending money must come from you.   

Today I worry even more about the sheer (SET ITAL) quantity (END ITAL) of rules. There are now 170,000 pages of federal laws and many more local rules. If you can't get a job, there's a good chance that this spider web of regulations is the reason why.    

After recessions, employment used to bounce back quickly, but not this time. What employer wants to hire when doing so requires fighting incomprehensible complexity and risking punishment for violating some obscure rule? I'd be (SET ITAL) afraid (END ITAL) to build a serious business. Today's laws are so complex even the lawyers don't understand them.    

And the clutter gets worse. Every day, regulators craft more rules. It's always (SET ITAL) more (END ITAL). If you're a regulator, and you don't add rules, you think you're not doing your job.  

So now that spring is about to arrive, let's give government that overdue cleaning. Eliminate half the 170,000 pages of federal laws, scrap useless Cabinet departments, and cut the $4 trillion in spending in half. We could move about so much more freely if our lives weren't buried in government's junk.    

Laws stop me from opening my own lemonade stand, dictate where kids must attend school, and forbid voluntary interactions between consenting adults. Clean this stuff away!   

When government is big, we become smaller. When we're trapped in the web of their rules, we don't innovate; we become passive.   

To clean house, pass the Stossel Rule. It's simple: For every new regulation bureaucrats pass, they must repeal five old ones.   

It would be a start.  

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "No They Can't: Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed." To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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