Is the federal government too big to control?

President Barack Obama’s senior advisor David Axelrod is now claiming that President Barack Obama cannot be held responsible for every individual engaged in wrongdoing, because the federal government is too big.  “Part of being president is there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast,” are the exact words that Axelrod told MSNBC to describe what he thinks is a reasonable excuse for Obama not knowing what the government officials in question were doing.

“Here’s a thought,” replied a writer named President Paul on The Blaze, “Shrink it!” {1}

If we can’t keep proper control of the behemoth that is the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), if we can’t control everything Health and Human Services (HHS) does, or if the overreaching arm of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is becoming just too massive, why don’t we begin narrowing their scope and responsibilities of these departments to allow for easier management and greater oversight. Why, instead, are we constantly increasing and expanding the responsibilities of these departments and the government in general?

In a USA Today column, Ms. Kirsten Powers counters that the government has not grown under Obama, as conservatives will tell you, because the number of government workers has been exaggerated:

“It so happens that the claim that government is bigger under President Obama than any time in history—an oft-repeated trope—is actually not even true. Not counting the military, there were 3,054,000 federal employees in 1988, the last full year conservative standard bearer Ronald Reagan was in office. In 2011, there were 2,756,000—a reduction of 10% from Reagan. Even characterizing the IRS scandal as a “big government” problem is silly: less than 200 employees in a single Cincinnati office had to process 60,000 non-profit applications. Government bloat this is not.”

This method of argument drives some conservatives crazy. It involves stating a truth—such as the fact that more government employees equals a larger government by population—but it does not take into account the idea that fewer people wielding more power can also be defined as bigger government. The fact that Obama’s government bureaucrats wield more power than Reagan’s, even though fewer in numbers, seems so obvious that it feels like we’re entering a faulty premise, but since there are some who will believe Ms. Powers has a point based on pure numbers, that has to be defeated.

How many people heard of the Health and Human Services (HHS) department before Obama took office? One can argue that those of us that hadn’t weren’t paying enough attention, but even some of those that aren’t paying a lot of attention now know what the HHS is now, and who Kathleen Sibelius is.  How many farmers and ranchers heard of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) during the Reagan era, or if they happened to hear of the agency how many of them knew what they did? It was outside purview of most farmers and ranchers back then, but just try to find an established farmer, or rancher, that hasn’t heard of the EPA in this administration. You could say that all non-profit groups knew of the IRS’s role in obtaining tax-exempt status back in the Reagan era, but did they know how much power this tax collection agency of the Treasury Department had in the Reagan era. In the Obama era, conservative non-profit groups learned firsthand how much power they had, and how much political abuse was possible due to that power. And those that aren’t currently paying attention to the attempts the Senate is making to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants don’t know the name Janet Napolitano. As that amnesty bill currently stands, it has been reported that Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano is about to become a rock star.  The current bill promises to grant her “virtually unlimited” and “unreviewable” discretionary power to grant citizenship to illegal immigrants. Should this scare us that one person, much less a government agency, should be granted such power?

According to Ms. Powers rationale it’s okay, as long as those making centralized decisions are relatively few.  Okay, but aren’t we increasing the centralized few IRS decision makers to oversee Obamacare? Even in the aftermath of a scandal that reveals that the IRS decision makers can be political in nature, we’re giving them more power. Isn’t President Obama going to veto any Congressional attempts to curb the growth of the EPA, even though this agency exerted power on conservative groups through denying them waivers on FOIA fees 92% of the time, while liberal environmental groups’ seeking these same fee-waiver requests were approved 92 percent of the time.{2}  We may want to check with Ms. Powers to see if there are more employees in the EPA now versus 1988 to see if it’s a more powerful government body.

The only troubling expansion of powers Ms. Powers acknowledges in her column, is that which the Department of Justice wielded by spying on reporters, but she says that that is the:

“Kind of expansive government power conservatives have championed and true liberals loathe. There is nothing liberal about Obama’s full embrace of the George W. Bush agenda to expand executive power to infringe on American’s civil liberties.  The fact that there have been so few intellectually honest liberals calling Obama out for this government abuse is not an indictment of liberalism, it’s an indictment of the institutional left who behave more like ends-justify-the-means Obama cultists than liberals.”{3}

The article that Ms. Powers writes is a general condemnation of the Obama administration, and it’s failure to live up to what she believes are liberal ideals.  It is well written and relatively comprehensive, but the fact that she takes a moment to dispel the notion that this government is not bigger now than it has been at any time in history through a census performed on the number of individuals in the Obama administration causes her to lose some credibility. As stated earlier it’s not the quantity of bureaucrats in Washington, it’s the quality of power they wield. As the IRS scandal has shown—more than just about any other scandal that has hit the halls of Washington—when you grant massive amounts of power to individual government bureaucrats, departments, and agencies, you increase a vulnerability to abuse…even if those that may eventually abuse their power happen to be fewer in number.  But, to paraphrase David Axelrod, the power granted to these people has grown to such proportions in size and scope that it’s too much for anyone to control.

{1} {2} {3}


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