Republicans let federal subsidy programs multiply

Bob Tippee
Editor

Part of the reason the Republican Party lost control of Congress on Nov. 7 is that too many of its incumbents abandoned their principles.

Republicans once championed limits on government. In power, though, they expanded the role of the state, too often to dispense political favors.

Chris Edwards, director of tax policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute, last month reported a revealing measure of this malpractice.

He assembled data on federal subsidy programs from a government periodical called the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance.

He found 1,696 subsidy programs in the federal budget this year. The number lately has zoomed. In 2000 it was 1,425. In 1990 it was 1,176; in 1980, 1,123; in 1970, 1,019.

"In recent years, the scope of federal control over society has widened as politicians of both parties have favored nationalizing many formerly state, local, and private activities," Edwards observes.

Energy is one of two federal agencies for which the number of subsidy programs fell during 1996-2000, dropping by 11 to 27. Subsidy programs in the Department of Education fell by 6 during the period to 146.

But subsidies and incentives in the tax code, as opposed to agency programs, increased in both areas.

"The number of energy incentives in the income tax code increased from 9 in 1990 to 26 by 2006," Edwards points out.

Big department gainers in subsidy programs during 1996-2000 were Interior, up 88 to 134; Agriculture, up 78 to 198; and Health and Human Services, up 77 to 334.

"As time has passed, more farm crops are receiving federal subsidies, more local police services are being paid for with federal grants, and more cradle-to-grave health services are being created by Congress," Edwards says.

The trend, he argues, violates the constitutional principle of federalism, which aims to limit the reach of the federal government into state, local, and private affairs.

It also represents an institutional breech of faith by Republicans. Democrats shouldn't misinterpret their victory as a sign of popular craving for exuberant governance.

Americans don't seem any less wary of Big Government than ever. Republicans learned that lesson the hard way.

(Online Nov. 10, 2006; author's e-mail: bobt@ogjonline.com)

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