Jonah Goldberg

Meanwhile, President Obama's proposal isn't an actual budget that can be scored and measured by the Congressional Budget Office, but a scathing speech in which he offers gassy snake oil solutions and more arbitrary gimmicks. If his ideas don't bring spending under control, years after he leaves office, Obama swears that an "independent commission" will make all the necessary cuts. This from the same president who insisted for that year that he needed to wait for his deficit reduction commission to make its recommendation and then ignored the recommendations when they arrived.

Again, this is not a new phenomenon. It traces itself back to the Progressive era idea that governance should be taken over by unelected and "disinterested" experts. But in recent years the problem has metastasized. Congress selectively outsourced its unique constitutional obligation to levy taxes to the Federal Communications Commission and the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (created by the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002). The FCC taxes long distance phone calls and then spends the money on school computers, Internet upgrades for rural hospitals and the like. That's nifty, but it's a job for Congress.

The Environmental Protection Agency -- with Obama's apparent approval -- is champing at the bit to take over vast swaths of the economy by declaring carbon emissions a pollutant subject to its capricious regulation. "ObamaCare" is cut from the same cloth, creating the Independent Payment Advisory Board -- that independent commission aforementioned designed to catch the can Obama wants to kick down the road. It also creates countless other opportunities for bureaucrats to "fill in" policies as they see fit, without popular or congressional approval.

There are solutions in the works. The proposed REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act) would require congressional approval for any regulatory decision that would impose an economic cost higher than $100 million. There are reasonable criticisms of such legislation, but there are precious few defenses of the status quo. Similarly, the intensified debate over the Libyan war shows that eventually the people will demand accountability and leadership, alas often only after all other options have been exhausted.

More and more, it seems as if our politicians want to be the divorced parent who only visits on weekends to do the fun stuff: Give out goodies, go to the movies, enjoy pony rides and ice cream cake, while expecting somebody else to be the tough parent who has to deal with the costs and the consequences. That is a natural human desire, particularly for politicians, a breed of professionals who have an unhealthy need to be liked. The problem is, that's not what they're being paid to do.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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