HUMAN EVENTS assembled a group of conservative leaders that nominated and voted for the Ten Most Outrageous Government Programs. The Legal Services Corporation finished first, but it was not a blowout.
1. Legal Services Corporation
Started when: 1974
By whom: President Richard Nixon proposed the Legal Services Corporation. Liberal Republican Sen. Jacob Javits (N.Y.) was the principal sponsor.
Why: “To help poor people with their legal needs,” former Rep. John Erlenborn (R.-Ill.) told Human Events. Erlenborn, one of the floor managers for the LSC bill, is now LSC’s president.
What it does: LSC gives grants to groups of lawyers who often use the money for leftist lawsuits. Grantees have sued to keep criminals from being evicted from public housing, to help illegal aliens get government benefits, and to throw out ballots of military personnel in Texas. In 1996, Congress imposed new restrictions on LSC funding, trying to stem politicized suits. But Ken Boehm of the National and Legal Policy Center says LSC grantees strive to circumvent these restrictions. Erlenborn says LSC has reformed and only “helps poor people who are taken advantage of.”
Cost: LSC received $338.8 million in fiscal 2003, a $9.5-million increase. President Bush’s budget requested no increase for fiscal 2004, but Erlenborn says the funding level is still under negotiation.
Constitutional provision: “Probably the same one that lets the federal government build highways,” said Erlenborn. “I don’t know. The general welfare clause.”
2. McCain-Feingold Campaign Finance Reform Act
Started when: 2002
By whom: Sponsored by Senators John McCain (R.-Ariz.) and Russ Feingold (D.-Wis.), and Representatives Chris Shays (R.-Conn.) and Marty Meehan (D.-Mass.). President George W. Bush signed it into law.
Why: To allegedly “clean up” financing of federal election campaigns-an issue sparked by the corrupt financing of President Clinton’s 1996 reelection campaign.
What it does: It prevents political parties from raising funds that are not allocated to specific candidates-so-called “soft money”-and bars citizens groups from using candidates’ names or pictures in broadcast advertising during the weeks before elections. In restricting political speech it flagrantly violates the 1st Amendment. It also protects incumbents from challengers and from issue-oriented groups opposed to their voting records. Only candidates and journalists-not citizens-are allowed to speak freely in the media prior to an election.
Cost: The major cost is in lost freedom. But with enactment of McCain-Feingold, the Federal Election Commission’s budget will swell 10%, from $45 million in 2003 to $50 million for 2004.
Constitutional provision: FEC Spokesman Ian Stirton said, “The Supreme Court will address the constitutionality of McCain-Feingold.”
3. Davis-Bacon Act
Started when: 1931
By whom: President Herbert Hoover signed the Davis-Bacon Act. It was named for its chief sponsors, Rep. Robert Bacon (R.-N.Y.) and Sen. James J. Davis (R.-Pa.).
Why: The law was designed to address what its big-labor supporters described as the “growing menace” of black workers who were depressing the wages of employees working for government contractors. Testifying in favor of Davis-Bacon, American Federation of Labor President William Green said, “Colored labor is being brought in to demoralize wages.” Rep. John Cochran (D.-Mo.) said, “I have received numerous complaints in recent months about southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics, getting work and bringing in employees from the south.”
What it does: Davis-Bacon requires government contractors to pay workers no less than the “prevailing” local wage for the type of labor they perform. Labor Department bureaucrats in consultation with union officials and major contractors determine the “prevailing” wage for all types of labor in all regions of the country. This tends to freeze out non-union workers and small contractors who compete in the free market by working for less.
Cost: The Senate Republican Policy Committee says Davis-Bacon increases the cost of federal construction projects by 38%. The Congressional Budget Office recommended repeal of Davis-Bacon in 2001, estimating it would save taxpayers $10.5 billion through 2011.
Constitutional provision: Labor Department Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs Sue Hensley said: “That question would probably be better posed to Congress, since they passed the Davis-Bacon Act.”
4. Corporation for National and Community Service/AmeriCorps
Started when: 1993
By whom: President Bill Clinton proposed CNCS/AmeriCorps. Rep. Matthew Martinez (D.-Calif.) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass.) were the principal sponsors.
Why: To subsidize volunteerism.
What it does: Under CNCS, AmeriCorps and other volunteerism-promoting agencies such as Senior Corps hand out grants to “state and local governments, Indian tribes, public and private nonprofit organizations and higher education institutions” to sponsor volunteer programs. CNCS has introduced the oxymoron “paid volunteer” to the American political lexicon. The General Accounting Office has found that CNCS “volunteers” cost from $8,000 to $100,000 each.
Cost: CNCS received $786 million in fiscal 2003. The administration is requesting $962 million for 2004, an increase of $176 million, or 22%. The National Taxpayers Union says CNCS has received a total of $6 billion since 1994.
Constitutional provision: CNCS Spokesman Sandy Sco tt said, “I guess you could ask that about any government program.”
5. Endangered Species Act
Started when: 1973
By whom: President Richard Nixon proposed it. Rep. John Dingell (D.-Mich.) and Sen. Harrison Williams (D.-N.J.) were its principal sponsors.
Why: “[T]o protect endangered species of wildlife,” said Nixon.
What it does: ESA gives the government broad powers to protect endangered species, subspecies, or even “distinct” regional populations of species. Private groups also can sue to force the government to list a species as “threatened” or “endangered” or to take actions to protect it. In protecting species, the government can prohibit development and use of private property designated as “critical habitat.” ESA is “called by many the single most powerful law ever passed,” writes conservative environmental expert R.J. Smith. “In theory it takes precedence over all other laws-perhaps even the takings clause of the Constitution.”
Cost: ESA enforcement received $125.7 million in fiscal 2002 (fiscal 2003 numbers were unavailable). The administration has requested $128.7 million for fiscal 2004. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) has estimated that in fiscal 1997 federal and state governments spent $301 million on “certain expenditures” related to endangered species. Neither USFWS nor seven environmental experts contacted by HE could estimate ESA’s cost to the economy. Jim Streeter of the National Wilderness Institute said estimating this was practically impossible.
Constitutional provision: “It’s my understanding that the foundation is based on the commerce clause,” said Chris Tollefson of USFWS.
6. No Child Left Behind Act
Started when: 2002
By whom: President George W. Bush proposed the No Child Left Behind Act. Rep. John Boehner (R.-Ohio) and Sen. Edward Kennedy (D.-Mass) were its chief sponsors.
Why: This law was designed to improve public schools by increasing federal funding, and by creating new state testing requirements to hold public schools accountable for the achievement of their students, while allowing some school choice.
What it does: The law vastly accelerated the federalization of education. First, it forced states to implement standardized tests that must be approved by the federal government. Secondly, it massively increased federal education spending. And, finally, it included no real school choice: Parents of students in public schools that fail tests for two consecutive years will be given the option of putting their children in other public or charter schools-but not in a private or religious school.
Cost: The law included new authorization for $26.3 billion for programs under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That was an $8-billion increase from the previous year.
Constitutional provision: The 1996 Republican National Platform said there is “no constitutional authority” for a federal Department of Education.
Started when: 1971
By whom: President Richard Nixon signed the law creating Amtrak.
Why: The National Rail Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was designed to be a temporary program to sustain the failing national passenger rail system. After two years, government subsidies were supposed to end as Amtrak became self-sufficient.
What it does: Amtrak never did become a self-sustaining, for-profit corporation. It remains a drain on the federal treasury. According to the White House, Amtrak already has received more than $24 billion in tax dollars. Congress continues to subsidize the program despite the 1997 Amtrak Reform Bill that required the rail carrier to operate without federal subsidies by 2003.
Cost: Amtrak received $1.05 billion in 2003, a $223.5-million increase over 2002. Amtrak has requested another $1.8-billion subsidy for fiscal year 2004.
Constitutional provision: Warren Flatau, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration, said, “I’m not a legal scholar. One could ask the same thing about a multitude of other government functions.”
8. Corporate Average Fuel Economy Standards
Started when: 1975
By whom: President Gerald Ford proposed it. Senators Ted Kennedy (D.-Mass.), Hubert Humphrey (D.-Minn.) and Walter Mondale (D.-Minn.) were cosponsors.
Why: A response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo, CAFE was supposed to diminish U.S. dependence on foreign oil. President Ford said it would help achieve “energy independence for the U.S. by 1985.”
What it does: CAFE forces automakers to make more fuel-efficient cars. It sets minimum standards for the average fuel efficiency of all the cars sold by an auto manufacturer each year. If the manufacturer does not meet the standard it is fined for over-consumption. CAFE costs lives. A 2001 National Academy of Sciences study found CAFE may cause 2,000 fatalities a year due to downsizing of cars. Lighter cars tend to be more fuel efficient, but less safe. Rather than repeal CAFE, Congress and the administration are exploring ways to make it tougher.
How Much: The federal cost is only a small portion of the Transportation Department’s fiscal 2004 budget of $218 million for research and operations. But its greater cost is in lost lives.
Constitutional provision: “Well, Congress did it…_let me pass you along to someone else,” said a Transportation Department spokeswoman. It turned out no one else was available.
9. Title X Family Planning Funding
Started when: 1970
By whom: President Richard Nixon signed Title X of the Public Health Service Act.
Why: Title X was designed to subsidize the use and distribution of birth control drugs and devices and to provide pregnancy testing.
What it does: Title X funds nearly 5,000 family planning clinics around the country, many of which are operated by Planned Parenthood. The Washington Times reported in 1997 that of the approximately 5 million women who visit Title X clinics each year, more than 1.2 million are adolescent girls. Because money is fungible, Title X in effect not only subsidizes the distribution of birth control to teenage girls but also the provision of abortions. In addition to running Title X family planning clinics, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading abortion provider.
Cost: Title X funding was $275 million in fiscal 2003. The Bush Administration is requesting a cut to $265 million in fiscal 2004.
Constitutional provision: Christina Pearson, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services (which administers Title X) did not respond to queries from Human Events.
10. Welfare for Non-Citizens
Started when: According to Steve Camarota of the Center for Immigration Studies, four major welfare programs-Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, Supplementary Security Income (SSI) and Food Stamps-provide handouts to non-citizens. TANF (formerly called Aid to Families with Dependent Children) descends from a predecessor started in 1935.
By whom: President Roosevelt created tanf’s predecessor and Food Stamps. President Johnson created Medicaid. President Nixon created SSI.
Why: To take care of people who don’t or won’t take care of themselves.
What it does: In addition to encouraging Americans to be dependent on government, these programs encourage aliens to come here and sponge off taxpayers. The 1996 welfare reform was supposed to change that. According to Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, it made legal aliens ineligible for Food Stamps and SSI, and required them to live here for five years before becoming eligible for TANF. In 1997 and 1998, Congress loosened the restrictions on non-citizens getting SSI. The 2002 farm bill lifted the ban on Food Stamps for non-citizens, and replaced it with a five-year wait. Medicaid covers medical emergencies for non-citizens, and states may choose to give non-citizens full coverage if they have lived in the U.S. five years.
Cost: Camarota says non-citizens received $14 billion from the four programs in 2001.
Constitutional provision: HHS Spokeswoman Pam Carter said, “That’s way above my pay grade….Congress gives us the money and we do as it directs.”