From the Heritage Foundation's Morning Bell publication.
The 111th Congress, the most unpopular Congress in the recorded history if the United States, ended last week with a flurry of legislative activity that set a record for a lame duck Congress. Some in the media are eager to make the case that last week’s events portend a new era of bipartisan accomplishment, led by the White House, that will extend into the 112th Congress. They are half right.
Last week’s events in Washington were a preview of lawmaking in 2011, but Congress was not where the real action was. While the media was distracted by the last breaths of a defeated leftist majority in Congress, it was the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that gave true picture of how the Obama Administration will advance their agenda in 2011.
First on Tuesday, the HHS unveiled new price controls for the health insurance industry. Using new powers granted by Obamacare, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced that starting next year, health insurance companies must receive permission from the Obama Administration before they can raise rates by more than 10 percent. The experts at HHS believe these price controls will help decrease rising health care costs. They are wrong. Price controls attack the symptoms of runaway costs, not the cause. As any Econ 101 student can tell you, they will cause only shortages, not better health care. This is only one of thousands of new powers Obamacare granted the HHS. Left unchecked, there are many new health care regulations to come.
Later on Tuesday, the FCC released its “net neutrality” rules, which will allow the federal government to begin regulating the Internet. This despite opposition from Congress and a contrary federal court ruling. Dissenting FCC commissioner Robert McDowell described the unprecedented power grab last week: “Nothing is broken that needs fixing, however. The Internet has been open and freedom-enhancing since it was spun off from a government research project in the early 1990s. Its nature as a diffuse and dynamic global network of networks defies top-down authority. Ample laws to protect consumers already exist.” And just how competent is the Internet’s new rulers? Just before the FCC decision, visitors to the commission’s Web site couldn’t even access the 1,900 pages of documents pertaining to the net neutrality ruling. The very commission seeking to regulate the Internet saw its Web site go down due to “scheduled maintenance.”
Then on Thursday the EPA announced that it will begin regulating power plants and oil refineries in an attempt to stop global warming. The new regulations will seek to cut greenhouse gas emissions by making it more expensive to turn fossil fuels into energy. But the Obama Administration did not stop there. Later in the day, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that the Bureau of Land Management was issuing new rules that would make it harder to develop natural resources on government-owned land. Both of these measures will not only drive up the cost of electricity but will also make us more dependent on foreign sources of energy.
The ability of the Obama Administration to step up their leftist agenda even after it was thoroughly “shellacked” at the polls is not an accident. It is the purposeful design of the Progressive movement, which has been working to undermine the Founders’ vision of our republic for over a century now. Thomas G. West, contributor to The Progressive Revolution in Politics and Political Science, explains:
The Founders thought that laws should be made by a body of elected officials with roots in local communities. They should not be “experts,” but they should have “most wisdom to discern, and most virtue to pursue, the common good of the society” (Madison). The wisdom in question was the kind on display in The Federalist, which relentlessly dissected the political errors of the previous decade in terms accessible to any person of intelligence and common sense.
The Progressives did not intend to abolish democracy, to be sure. They wanted the people’s will to be more efficiently translated into government policy. But what democracy meant for the Progressives is that the people would take power out of the hands of locally elected officials and political parties and place it instead into the hands of the central government, which would in turn establish administrative agencies run by neutral experts, scientifically trained, to translate the people’s inchoate will into concrete policies.
This will be the fight of 2011: the unelected central planning “experts” of the Obama Administration versus the newly elected House of Representatives and state and local governments. The people are not powerless. Congress still has the power of the purse and can withhold funding for implementing Obamacare or writing global warming regulations. There is also the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to review and overrule regulations issued by government agencies. State and local governments can also thwart the federal administrative state by asserting their rights whenever possible. We can return power from Washington back to the people. Saying good-bye to the 111th Congress is a great first step.
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