Those GOP Promises to Close Federal Agencies


We all had a good laugh watching Rick Perry embarrass himself during a Republican debate a few weeks ago by not remembering which federal agencies he had promised to eliminate, but we should actually be laughing just as derisively at all of the candidates claiming that they’ll just close up a bunch of agencies and save all the money budgeted for them now. Ron Paul, unsurprisingly, has been the most aggressive in this regard:

Paul’s ‘Big Dog’ ad shows mushroom clouds bursting over animated images of the five agencies he’d eliminate in his first year in office: Education, Commerce, Energy, Interior and Housing and Urban Development. A macho-sounding narrator reminds voters that the Texas congressman’s pledge would save $1 trillion — “That’s trillion with a T!” before concluding, “Later, bureaucrats. That’s how Ron Paul rolls.”

Paul’s website also says he would “eliminate the ineffective EPA” because “polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create — not to Washington.”

Perry has obviously made similar promises, and Newt Gingrich actually tried to get rid of three agencies when he led Congress in the 90s (and failed). But as Politico notes, these promises are little more than empty applause lines.

Eliminating the Commerce Department, for example, raises constitutional concerns since it houses the U.S. Census Bureau. Local TV meteorologists would be lost without the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Big and small businesses might have problems without the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
Chopping DOE also causes heartburn considering it’s the parent department for the Energy Information Administration, a popular source for public data, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent entity that oversees the nation’s electric grid.

Government experts agree there are opportunities for a president to work with Congress in streamlining departments and programs. A Government Accountability Office report released in March found 34 areas of overlap, duplication and fragmentation ripe for reform, including in the military, food safety, health care and ethanol production. GAO calculated its ideas could collectively yield tens of billions of dollars in savings every year if implemented.
“I believe there is more pay dirt in streamlining existing agencies than in trying to abolish them,” said Dwight Ink, who served in a variety of high-level posts under every president from Dwight Eisenhower to Ronald Reagan.
Ink, a former director of the Atomic Energy Commission who later helped create the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the EPA, said the GOP candidates are being “fairly irresponsible” in calling for the shuttering of so many different departments.

“In most cases they really do not follow through on what the consequences are,” he said. “They have very little idea what those agencies are doing. If they were eliminated, what functions? Who’d pick them up?”

And even some prominent Republican legislators are pointing out how silly all of this is:

Some veteran GOP lawmakers dismissed their presidential contenders’ calls to chop wholesale departments.
“That’s just talking points,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee. While Inhofe said he’d introduce a bill to kill a department if asked by a GOP president, he quickly added, “But I like to get into things where I know I can win.”

“What do you do with Hanford, Wash.?” asked Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), raising a concern about what would happen to one of the nation’s major high-level nuclear waste repositories if the Energy Department was shuttered.

They are right that there is a lot of duplication among various federal agencies and a hell of a lot of wasted money and effort as a result. That GAO report should be the starting point for a bipartisan effort at streamlining the federal government as much as possible.

But let’s not kid ourselves about the nature of our political system. Every single agency enforces regulations that have largely been written by business interests to maximize their profits, which means there are moneyed interests with a big stake in the outcome of any reform effort. Any bill that would implement such a plan would be a huge target for lobbying and bribery — let’s not mince words, that’s what we’re talking about — to keep the rent-seeking regulations, loopholes, subsidies and other advantages currently in place. And we would end up with yet another boondoggle of a bill that serves the interests of the few rather than the many. Welcome to reality.

Comments

  1. gshelley says

    While they may have little chance, I think that Perry and Paul, given their obvious dislike of Federal Government and the extent to which the 14th amendment has applied the Bill of Rights to the States, I expect they would certainly do all they can to push it through.
    Commerce seems a little odd though, as control of commerce is one of the few things explicitly granted to the Federal government that they are going after. Perhaps they just want to move all the functions into other departments?

  2. The Lorax says

    I pay $300 dollars a month to the U.S. Department of Education for student loans. That’s exactly how I sign my check, even. So I’m giving them money that I owe them for helping me get an education, an education that I’m using to help bolster the economy (in my own small way) and will hopefully soon use to further the education of potentially thousands of others. I’m giving them money (with interest) in response to them helping me get to a point where I can give them more money. And they want to shut it down? Kapoof? With no back-up plan?

    … I don’t want to live on this planet anymore.

  3. kelecable says

    I believe Ron Paul has said that if he had the chance to ax the Department of Education, he would still keep Pell Grants (at least for a while) and would just transfer them to another department. I assume he would do the same for stuff like the Census Bureau.

  4. cathyw says

    Twice I’ve started to type something in response to “polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create — not to Washington.” It got TL;DR pretty fast, because I could go on at great length about what’s wrong with that once you take the thought to any conclusion deeper than “EPA bad! Smash bad EPA!”. I figured I’d spare you all, figuring I’m more or less preaching to the choir.

    But can someone tell me: is it a tenet of Libertarian thought that I have a property interest in my own or my children’s health? Or if I lived downwind of a big air polluter (who could be hundreds of miles away – ask Canada about acid rain…), and if I could somehow find the right person to sue, would I be limited to suing over medical bills, lost income, and reduced land values?

  5. says

    Paul’s website also says he would “eliminate the ineffective EPA” because “polluters should answer directly to property owners in court for the damages they create — not to Washington.”

    That’s adowable. Wook at the widdle old wady suing the immortal, billionaire corporation. Awww.

    kelecable “I believe Ron Paul has said that if he had the chance to ax the Department of Education, he would still keep Pell Grants (at least for a while) and would just transfer them to another department.”
    He’s a Republican, so I’m picturing a no-oversight block grant to the states.

  6. d cwilson says

    But can someone tell me: is it a tenet of Libertarian thought that I have a property interest in my own or my children’s health? Or if I lived downwind of a big air polluter (who could be hundreds of miles away – ask Canada about acid rain…), and if I could somehow find the right person to sue, would I be limited to suing over medical bills, lost income, and reduced land values?

    You would probably never even get to collect that much. The “person” you would be suing would be a multi-billion dollar corporation with enough deep pockets to burrow you in motions and hire an army of “experts” who will testify that the ozone and particulate matter you’ve been inhaling is actually beneficial to your health.

    Eventually, they’ll counter sue you for harassment and then charge you for the “privilege” of inhaling their proprietary pollutants.

  7. d cwilson says

    I wouldn’t assume that Paul or Perry wouldn’t push through legislation to dismantle federal agencies, even those that perform functions that are explicitly written in the Constitution. The Constitution requires that the federal government conduct a census, not that it maintain a Census Bureau. Giving the privatization fetish that grips the GOP these days, I’m sure many of them would happily outsource the job to contractors who will run the census at three times the cost (plus) and will do it with the same level of quality we’ve come to expect from Halliburton, Kellog and Root, and Blackwater.

    Just look at what’s going on with the Post Office (another job explicitly listed in the Constitution). After passing legislation that was designed to bankrupt the USPS, republicans are now talking about privatizing many of its functions.

  8. cathyw says

    @d cwilson – That was about three paragraphs of the deleted rant, and the doggie picture from Modusoperandi sums up another thousand words. I’m more interested in the theory, though. Suppose (and this is another three paragraphs of the deleted rant) I could prove that I got breast cancer as a direct result of ABC Chemical’s discharge of Chemical Z (as opposed to BCD Chemical’s discharge of the same pollutant in roughly the same place, which was another three paragraphs of the deleted rant). Suppose I had to have a breast removed – this would not result in monetary damages beyond the medical bills, since I am not in a profession where breasts are a job requirement, but do I have enough of a property interest in my left breast that “My left breast is now so much medical waste, and it’s your fault!” is a valid claim?

  9. d cwilson says

    Well, if you’re a nursing mother, maybe they can buy you a case of infant formula to replace the milk your breast would have produced. Other than that, they say the chemicals in our bodies are worth about 80 cents, so depending on your cup size, as property, your breast is worth about a penny or two.

  10. says

    “In most cases they really do not follow through on what the consequences are,” he said.

    Bingo. We have a winner here. Ding ding ding ding ding.
    That’s our modern Republican party. Inviolable principles and talking points that seem sound until you actually think through the real-world implications.

  11. naturalcynic says

    Hey, I’ve got a great idea. If a whole lot of people are harmed from the effluent from a factory that is polluting our drinking water or polluting the air, why don’t we all get together to form some sort of a collective unit that can have enough economic clout to effectively fight the polluters. Then we can have some sort of effective lass-action type of lawsuit. Even better, why can’t that unit have some power to have the power to prohibit the polluters from harming us in the first place. That would be the true libertarian solution to pollution – institutions that would make it an economic fair fight.
    We could even have some kind of name for such an institution. like government.

  12. says

    A macho-sounding narrator reminds voters that the Texas congressman’s pledge would save $1 trillion — “That’s trillion with a T!” before concluding, “Later, bureaucrats. That’s how Ron Paul rolls.”

    Cripes. Once again, with feeling: Total non-defense discretionary comes out to roughly $600 billion. Basic arithmetic tells you that you can’t possibly get $1 trillion by cutting those departments, even if you didn’t try to make up for their lost functions elsewhere. The only way that kind of savings could be realized is to eviscerate Social Security, Medicare, the Defense Department, or more likely, all three.

    And if that’s what Ron Paul wants, then fine. Just be honest about it. Please quit trying to sell us the Big Fat Lie that there’s a trillion dollars being spent by the likes of Education and Commerce.

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