The Associated Press's poll of editors and news directors declared the British Petroleum oil spill 2010's biggest story. They're way off the mark. The oil spill's impact recedes from the Gulf of Mexico and from the American mind. What will live on from 2010 is the movement of Americans disgusted with a government that knows no bounds.
The year began with the great health care debate, which was as much about process as policy. A majority of Americans rejected the underlying premise of the legislation—that more government intervention will make our health care system better. But even many sympathetic to government-run health care knew something was wrong with the process used to advance the legislation.
The dense, two thousand page bill was unread by Members of Congress. Americans saw Senators' support openly bought with favors, learned terms like “deem and pass” and “reconciliation,” and watched a determined Congress circumvent the normal legislative process. Constituents' concerns were dismissed, and the public told they'd learn what's in the legislation after it was passed.
And indeed the public is learning plenty. Health care costs will rise, not fall, as result of ObamaCare. While the Administration assured the public that the individual insurance mandate wasn't a tax, they now defend its constitutionality in court as justified by the government’ power to tax. The Department of Health and Human Services busily hands out waivers to new mandates, a process inevitably viewed as political, confirming for the public that there will always be one set of rules for the politically connected and another for the rest of us.
The year closed with a new dose of government over-reach. Days before Christmas, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) claimed authority over the Internet and moved to impose “net neutrality.” Net neutrality is the term used for the FCC’s move to determine the rules for “reasonable” network management, and limit Internet providers from charging content providers to deliver their services. The “net neutrality” concept has been voted down in Congress, and a federal court has already ruled the FCC lacks authority to regulate the Internet. Yet in spite of this, the FCC felt free to simply expand its authority and change the rules of our information superhighway.
Needless to say, the FCC's ruling isn't the end of the story. Lawsuits will be filed and Congress may act to officially strip the FCC of power over broadband. Yet that doesn't mean damage isn't being done.
What does it mean when a government agency can suddenly claim authority and change the rules governing massive sectors of our economy? Why should business make investments in new technologies and offer new services if a panel of three bureaucrats can undermine the hope of future profits?
The private sector is asking these questions. While many celebrated the recent tax bill for providing families, employers, and investors certainty about tax laws (even though this certainty will be short-lived, since most extensions sunset within two years), certainty about tax laws is just a small part of what entrepreneurs and companies need. They also need certainty about regulations. They need to know that agencies can't make the equivalent of new laws that will affect their businesses. They need to know that there will be a level playing field and that new mandates will be applied evenly, instead of being circumvented by an ad-hoc waiver process.
The American people increasingly recognize this, and see government as a cause of, rather than solution to, our nation's problems. The growing recognition of a government that is out of control is bigger than any single piece of legislation and larger than the total of our accumulated national debt. The problem is a government that knows no bounds and respects no process. New laws can dictate anything (you must buy health insurance today, who knows what tomorrow) and can emanate from anywhere (net neutrality from the FCC today, perhaps cap-and-trade energy taxes from the Environmental Protection Agency tomorrow).
American voters sent Washington a loud message in November. In 2011, our elected representatives need to prove that they understand that Americans don’t want an all-powerful government. If they don’t, the political class should expect an even larger political rebuke in 2012 to be the biggest story of that year.