Here’s our annual top ten list of the Worst Government Programs.
1. Medicare Prescription Drug Entitlement
Started when: 2003
By whom: President Bush and a Republican Congress.
Why: Enacted in response to an explosion in prescription drug use and prices, and in the belief it would be political popular among seniors.
What it does: Makes seniors dependent on the federal government for their medicines. Beginning in 2006, the program will provide prescription drug coverage for even the wealthiest seniors. The government will pay 75% of the first $2,500 in drug costs for seniors, minus a $250 deductible. It will also pay 95% of annual catastrophic drug costs once beneficiaries have paid $3,600 out of pocket. But seniors will have to pay for all drug costs in between, unless Congress fills this “coverage gap,” which was put in the bill to allow Congress to deceive voters about this program’s true long-term cost.
How much: Although enacted on the premise it would cost “only” $430 billion over ten years, the White House and Congressional Budget Office have already upped that to $540 billion.
Constitutional provision: When asked to cite the constitutional language authorizing a prescription drug program, Medicare spokeswoman Kathleen Dziak pointed to an agency document that gave the history and public policy rationale for Medicare, but not its constitutional authority.
2. Planned Parenthood Funding
Started when: 1970
By whom: President Nixon and a Democratic Congress.
Why: To subsidize domestic birth control and pregnancy testing, but supposedly not abortion.
What it does: Health and Human Services funds nearly 5,000 family planning clinics around the country, some of which are operated by Planned Parenthood. It also funds Planned Parenthood through Medicaid grants and Social Services block grants. The Washington Times reported in 1997 that of the approximately five million women who visit HHS clinics each year, more than 1.2 million are adolescent girls. Because money is fungible, HHS in effect not only subsidizes the distribution of birth control to teenage girls but also abortions. In addition to running HHS family planning clinics, Planned Parenthood is the nation’s leading abortion provider.
Cost: In 2001, according to the General Accounting Office, Planned Parenthood Federation of America and its affiliates received $162 million in federal funding.
Constitutional provision: “We’re part of the Executive Branch, and the part of the Constitution that establishes the Executive Branch,” said HHS spokesman Steve Barber.
3. United Nations Funding
Started when: 1945
By whom: President Truman in conjunction with a Democratic Senate, which ratified the UN treaty, and a Democratic House, which together with the Senate, approved the United Nations Participation Act that allowed for funding.
Why: Says the UN Charter: “To maintain international peace and security . . .to be a centre for harmonizing the actions of nations.”
What it does: The UN provides a forum for nations to discuss international problems, propose treaties, and run agencies that advance an internationalist-socialist agenda–while spewing propaganda against the United States. The Security Council can approve resolutions calling for the use of “international” military force. Five permanent members have a veto over Security Council resolutions: Russia, Britain, France, China and the United States. In 1950, President Truman took the U.S. to war in Korea on the strength of a U.N. resolution but lacking authorization from the U.S. Congress.
Cost: In 2003, the U.S. paid $279 million in dues to the UN’s regular budget, 22% of the total–down from the previous requirement of 25%. The full U.S. contribution to U.N. activities is far larger, however. Nile Gardiner and Baker Spring of the Heritage Foundation report: “Total U.S. contributions to the U.N. system in 2001 totaled $3.5 billion.”
Constitutional provision: A State Department spokeswoman pointed to the treaty-making authority the President shares with the Senate.
4. Farm Subsidies
Started when: 1929.
By whom: President Hoover.
Why: Farmers, asked to increase output during World War I, kept doing so after the war, causing prices to plummet in the 1920s. To “solve” the problem, Congress enacted the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1929, which established the $500 million Federal Farm Board to buy crops and thus stabilize prices for grain and cotton. This encouraged farmers to produce even more, causing prices to plummet again, inspiring further government subsidies.
What it does: Farm subsidies are intended to stabilize food prices, but actually make farming a highly regulated and often unprofitable profession while exacerbating rural poverty in countries where farmers can’t compete with subsidized American crops. After the 1929 legislation paid farmers to grow crops, the 1933 Agricultural Adjustment Act–part of FDR’s New Deal–tried to solve the resulting problems by paying farmers not to grow crops. The Agricultural Act of 1937 created a system of price supports for various commodities. The last attempt to abolish the system–the Freedom to Farm Act of 1996–was dismantled by the 2002 farm bill, signed by President Bush.
Cost: The 2002 farm bill will spend $171 billion through 2012.
Constitutional provision: Agriculture Department Spokeswoman Wayne Baggett cited the 2002 farm bill, but gave no constitutional rationale.
5. National Endowment for the Arts
Started when: 1965
By whom: President Johnson
Why: According to its website, “To foster, preserve, and promote excellence in the arts, to bring art to all Americans, and to provide leadership in arts education.”
What it does: The NEA gives tax-funded grants to selected “artists” in the United States and funds selected exhibitions and local arts agencies and foundations. In the past, tax-funded grants have gone to promote and produce work that was pornographic or blasphemous, leading to a reduction in funding during the early 1990s and a Republican effort to abolish the agency entirely (see page 3). More recently, the agency has evaded explosive controversy while still funding frivolity and left-wing interests.
How much: In 2004, the NEA received $121 million. President Bush is proposing a 15% increase to $139 million for 2005.
Constitutional provision: When asked for the constitutional provision justifying the NEA, spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said she was unsure, mentioning the 1965 law which established the agency. “I can point you to our legislative appropriations,” she said.
Started when: 1971
By whom: President Nixon and a Democratic Congress
Why: The National Rail Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was designed to be a temporary program to sustain the failing passenger rail system. After two years, government subsidies were supposed to end as Amtrak became self-sufficient.
What it does: Amtrak never became self-sufficient. It remains a drain on the Treasury. So far, it has soaked up more than $24 billion in tax dollars. Congress continues to provide the subsidies despite the 1997 Amtrak Reform Act that required the rail carrier to operate without subsidies by 2003. Federal grants are issued quarterly by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).
Cost: In 2004, the federal government will provide $1.2 billion to Amtrak. In 2005, the Bush administration is asking for $900 million for Amtrak–a 25% decrease.
Constitutional provision: HUMAN EVENTS asked both FRA Director Steven Klum and public affairs advisor Warren Flatau what constitutional language authorized Amtrak. Neither answered the question.
7. U.S. Postal Service
Started when: 1775
By whom: The Continental Congress named Benjamin Franklin the first Postmaster General in 1775. The present Postal Service descends in an unbroken line from the system Franklin started. At the request of President Nixon, Congress transformed the Post Office Department into the United States Postal Service (USPS).
Why: The Continental Congress created the Postal Service to help bind the new nation together, support commerce, and ensure a free flow of ideas and information. Nixon reformed it with the aim of making it a financially self-sustaining independent agency under the Executive Branch.
What it does: Processes and delivers mail with a monopoly protected by federal law.
Cost: In 2004, USPS will cost taxpayers $60 million in subsidies, $17 million less than 2003. According to the Treasury Department, in recent years the Post Office has required diminishing subsidies. As recently as 2000, it absorbed $200 million. But free market conservatives argue that postal rates have risen faster than inflation, postal service has deteriorated, and that free competition for mail delivery would cause prices to drop and service to improve.
Constitutional provision: Article 1, Section 8, Clause 7 gave Congress the power “To establish Post Offices and post Roads.”
8. Endangered Species Act
Started when: 1973
By whom: President Nixon and a Democratic Congress
Why: “[T]o protect endangered species of wildlife,” said Nixon.
What it does: ESA gives the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service sweeping powers to protect endangered species, subspecies, or even “distinct” subpopulations 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. The government can take away citizens’ property rights, prohibiting certain uses and any development if a property is designated “critical habitat.” ESA is “called by many the single most powerful law ever passed,” writes conservative environmental expert R.J. Smith.
Cost: The ESA program received $136.9 million for listing species, studies, and the like in 2004. However, a Fish & Wildlife spokeswoman estimated an additional $51.6 million would be spent in 2004 on enforcement. In 1997, Fish & Wildlife estimated, federal and state governments spent $301 million on “certain expenditures” related to endangered species, but no one has been able to estimate ESA’s cost to the economy.
Constitutional provision: Fish & Wildlife Spokeswoman Betsy Lordan said: “There are three potential sources of constitutional authority: property power, treaty power, and commerce power. The commerce power is the one frequently used to defend the ESA. In fact, the constitutional basis for many environmental statutes, including the ESA, is the Commerce Clause, which grants Congress the authority to regulate activities that affect interstate commerce.”
9. Title IX
Started when: 1972
By whom: President Nixon and a Democratic Congress
Why: The preamble to Title IX says it is to ensure “no person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subject to discrimination under any educational programs or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
What it does: Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in programs at schools that receive any federal funding. Examples of the types of discrimination covered include sexual harassment and discrimination based on pregnancy. Perhaps best known is the “proportionality” it demands for sports programs, a sort of quota system. As the Chicago Tribune explained it: “The law says that if the student body of a college or university is 40% female, then 40% of its student-athletes should be female.” The law is also interpreted as requiring equivalent facilities for male and female athletics.
Cost: In 2004, federal Title IX spending will be $88.3 million. Schools will spend unknown additional millions seeking to comply, or dealing with Title IX lawsuits.
Constitutional provision: Education Department Spokesman Jim Bradshaw said he did not know the constitutional authority for Title IX. Liberal activists are likely to argue it’s the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.
10. No Child Left Behind
Started when: 2002
By whom: President Bush. Sen. Teddy Kennedy (D.-Mass.) was the primary sponsor.
Why: It was intended to improve public schools by increasing federal funding, creating new testing requirements to hold schools accountable for the achievement of their students, and allowing limited school choice.
What it does: Massively increases federal education spending and federal intrusion in local schools. It forces states to implement standardized tests that must be approved by the federal government. As enacted, 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 child in another public school or charter school–but not in a private or religious school. A provision that would have allowed students to opt out of “persistently dangerous” schools has been effectively nullified by states that refuse to designate any school as “dangerous.”
Cost: In 2001, Department of Education spending was $29 billion. In 2004, it is $62 billion. For 2005, President Bush is requesting $64 billion.
Constitutional provision: When asked for the constitutional authority for this program, Education Department Spokesman Jim Bradshaw said it was enough of a “provision” that it “was authorized by President Bush . . . when he signed the legislation.”
10. Social Security
Started when: 1935
By whom: President Roosevelt and a Democratic Congress.
Why: To substitute the state for the family in providing for seniors who cannot independently sustain themselves financially.
What it does: The government imposes a 12.4% Social Security tax on the first $87,900 earned by every American. The worker pays half, 6.2%, directly (and it is shown on his paycheck). The employer pays the other half (and it is not shown on paychecks). In return for these taxes, the government promises the taxpayer modest monthly payments when he reaches retirement age (67 for those born after 1960). The problem is the government has never saved a penny of Social Security tax. When the program was founded, there were 42 taxpaying workers per recipient. Now, there are 3.3. In 40 years, there will be 2.
Cost: In 2003, the Social Security Administration spent $509.4 billion, including $9 billion on administrative expenses. Analyst Peter Ferrara estimates Social Security’s un-funded liability is $10.5 trillion.
Constitutional provision: “In terms of the Constitution, I don’t know,” said an SSA spokesman.
Comprehensive sex education grants: 34 points
Sugar price supports: 34 points
Corporation for Public Broadcasting: 30 points
CAFE Standards: 30 points
Bilingual education grants: 27 points
Dairy subsidies: 25 points
Federal Election Commission: 24 points
Pentagon’s “Don’t ask, Don’t tell”: 24 points
International Monetary Fund funding: 24 points
NAFTA: 20 points
Immigration laws administration: 20 points
Advanced technology program: 18 points
U.S. Agency for International Development: 17 points
Corp. for National Service/AmeriCorps: 16 points
Fannie Mae & Freddie Mac subsidies: 16 points
National Endowment for the Humanities: 12 points