It's time for a beautiful Sunset...Act

by Paul M. Weyrich
web posted April 3, 2000

In trying to take back the country it is important to focus not just on all of the things that are wrong, but on the remedies being proposed which are within the realm of the possible. One modest proposal, which would be a step in the right direction is H.R. 2128. It is called the Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act of 1999. It has last year's date on it because it was introduced by Representative Kevin Brady of Texas at the beginning of the 106th Congress. Now the bill is pushing 100 co-sponsors and just might have a chance of passing the Congress.

The concept of the bill is simple. Each and every department and agency of the federal government would be assigned a time certain by which it would go out of business unless Congress explicitly voted to retain it. That's right. The Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, even the Defence Department would have a time certain assigned to it by a Commission similar to the base closing Commission when, absent a vote by Congress, it would simply go out of business.

Now, I am sure you are thinking at this point, "Congress will just vote them all back in again anyway, so what is the point." Well, in Texas, for example, where Rep. Brady served in the state legislature, a similar effort caused 43 different programs and agencies to be eliminated. The bill, in short, creates a new dynamic which, while not perfect, is certainly better than the current situation, where departments and agencies are considered to be in operation in perpetuity and where some federal programs, that have not been re-authorized by a vote of the Congress, continue to exist through the appropriations process.

Let us suppose this bill becomes law, and the Department of Education is up for its vote in Congress. Yes, of course, the teachers unions and all the liberal groups in the nation would be clamoring for it to continue. But when that vote was pending on the floor of Congress, here would be the opportunity we have never had since the Department was established, to make the case against federal meddling in education. Our Members of Congress could tell the American people that the department is responsible for about seven percent of all education spending in the nation. That means that 93% of education spending originates at the state and local level. Yet, the Department of Education is responsible for almost 80% of all regulations that local educators have to contend with. In fact, the federal Department of Education causes so much spending to be mandated at the local level just to keep up with regulations, that local school districts would actually save money if they didn't have to comply with federal regulations. The federal government could keep its 7% and local districts could follow the mandates established by the states as they have done from the beginning of public education in America onward.

Now when that truth about the Department of Education is hammered home, and when the horror stories about bureaucratic waste and fraud are brought forth, I don't think it is a lead pipe cinch that the union lobbyists will prevail.

That can also be said of the case against every other department and agency of the government. Some will be able to justify themselves. Some, such as NASA, will capture the imagination of the public and support for funding will probably increase. But in the vast majority of cases, programs and agencies that waste our money would at least be candidates for the axe. Right now, the spending just goes on and on, no matter who is in control. Just think of some of those agencies that have been hostile to the public. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the IRS come readily to mind.

While this bill might not force these agencies to go out of business, I am willing to wager that it will force the agencies to write new regulations to deal with the public. Even that would be a win for the taxpayer. Just think of what has happened inside the IRS since Senator Bill Roth of Delaware held his famous hearings. Legislation resulted and now, for example, the IRS is whining that it can't force taxpayers to pay delinquent taxes they way that it used to. No indeed. Now the IRS must make reasonable collection attempts, which real people can cope with, before it can resort to its strong-arm tactics.

The same thing can happen to each and every agency which deals with the public. This act will put the fear of God back into government's relationship with the people.

Again, this bill is just a small step. Many of the programs which will come up for a vote are, quite candidly, unconstitutional and should be abolished on that basis alone. Efforts to try that approach, which I am all in favor of, have thus far failed. While an affirmative vote by the Congress doesn't make an agency constitutional, at least the agency will have to justify its existence. Members of Congress can ask pertinent questions at hearings which will be held over a several year period.

Rep. Brady is to be commended for pushing this legislation. He has even managed to get considerable bi-partisan support. True, some of the far-left Members supporting this measure look forward to the day when the Department of Defense is voted out of business. That won't happen, but that Department should not be exempt either from justifying its existence. Too often conservatives have been willing to turn a blind eye toward the Defense Department while they pursue the Department of Health and Human Services with vigor. The fact is, all government programs and the agencies which house them need to be sunsetted so they must justify their existence.

Get your Congressman behind the Brady bill...in this case the good Brady bill: H.R. 2128. Urge Speaker Hastert to move the legislation onto the calendar. Push the always reluctant Senate to get with the program. Sunsets where I come from have always been beautiful. It's time that we have beautiful sunsets in Washington D.C. as well.

Paul Weyrich is president of the Free Congress Foundation.

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