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Tuesday, Apr 16 2013 11:00 PM

ANOTHER VIEW: Why the federal government's spending addiction persists

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    John Pryor

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By JOHN PRYOR

Robert Price's April 14 column on the addiction of Congress to spending ("Cut spending? Naw, Congress just talks big") is completely correct. As Price comments, Congress is "so addicted, it'll actually force a government agency (USPS) to squander $2 billion a year that the agency would very much like to save."

However, this addiction is only a surface symptom of the root cause of our nation's problems.

If you "drill down," you'll quickly discover the fundamental cause of this addiction Price otherwise accurately describes. It's not a spendthrift Congress, nor even a president who tells us "spending is not the problem"! The root cause is clear. Our federal government is too big.

The final step in the management process (plan, organize, direct and control) tells us our federal government is so out of control that it's unmanageable -- and is too large for anyone to manage.

A recent example is the Department of Veterans Affairs' unacceptable cycle time to process veterans' benefit applications. Other examples are legion of our federal government's inability to exercise control of the systems and processes -- its departments and agencies -- in its legislative and executive branches. Drilling still deeper, you'll find our federal government is in continuous violation of the visionary constraints of the Constitution. Remember this statement by Henry David Thoreau? "The best government is that which governs least." Often incorrectly attributed to Jefferson, it nevertheless was consistent with Jefferson's thinking.

Moreover, we've forgotten that our country is designed in a federalist format in which power is divided between a central authority (Washington, D.C.) and constituent political units (our states). So what's the solution? Reduce the size, depth and breadth of federal government, guided by constraints historically imposed by the Constitution and almost constantly ignored by Congress.

This outcome cannot by accomplished by arbitrary "sequestration" budget cuts. It can be accomplished by asking: Is this issue properly addressed by our federal government? Or should it more appropriately be delegated to the several states, as required by the 10th Amendment? This doesn't mean the need is ignored. It means the same need will be addressed at the state level -- or even the local level -- probably more effectively.

Different regions have different conditions and needs. A nationwide "cookie cutter" approach, such as the Affordable Care Act, simply doesn't work in a "one size fits all" mode. This is why Congress in 1947 wisely declared insurance to be intrastate commerce with regulation by the states.

Using the Constitution as a template would eliminate a series of unconstitutional federal departments and agencies, e.g., Agriculture, Education, Energy, Environmental Protection, Food and Drug, and Labor/OSHA, to name but a few. Spending would be diminished dramatically.

Another solution is a reduction of the number of pages included in proposed laws. For Congress to "wade through" an individual bill of hundreds of pages is, to put it bluntly, stupid. It's micromanaging. It tells us those who draft such bills don't understand the basic difference between strategy and tactics, between leadership and management.

A legislative bill should be written from a strategic perspective as if it's at 30,000 feet -- and then, if the bill is signed into law, appropriate regulations can be drafted to define the "on the ground" steps needed to implement the law.

If Jesus were to have condensed "all of the law and the prophets" from the Old Testament into only two Great Commandments (Love God and Love Your Neighbor), surely our mere human politicians can become more succinct and strategic than they've been in the recent past.

It's that basic.

One final solution will avoid a trap into which many of us fall. We tend to use the term "government" without any adjective to tell us what level of government we're discussing. All too often, we default to the federal level. When you hear someone say "government" without any adjective, stop them and ask what level they mean.

That's about all we mere citizens can do short of electing different officeholders. The opportunity to do what's right -- what's constitutional and focused on the root causes of our problems, and not merely on their symptoms -- is up to those we've elected to lead our republic.

Do they even have a clue?

John Pryor is a risk management consultant to public- and private-sector organizations in central California. Another View presents a critical response to a previous editorial, column or news story.

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