Our own ‘swarms of officers’

Among the most disgusting aspects of the Hurricane Katrina recovery debacle was the incessant blame-shifting among local, state and federal authorities.

To hear former FEMA Director Mike Brown tell it, the biggest obstacles to getting needed aid to storm victims were New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin and Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. According to Nagin, it was Brown and Blanco. According to Blanco, it was …. and so on andso on.

Of course, the root problem was all were responsible in some manner for responding to the disaster, so none were. Bureaucratic buck-passing is inevitable when the Constitution’s balanced apportioning of responsibilities to specific levels of government is abandoned. The more dire the situation, the more intense the buck-passing.

Katrina was neither the first nor even the most outrageous manifestation of the corruption of the constitutional balance among local, state and federal authorities. The corruption that emerged most seriously under FDR’s New Deal metastasized with LBJ’s Great Society and its proliferation of federal aid programs.

Those who think the primary responsibility for the gutting of the Constitution lies with liberal Democrats, however, should think again. A new study from the Cato Institute indicates just how massively the balance was tipped most recently towards the federal government by Republican George W. Bush and the GOP majorities that controlled Congress until November 2006.

“Federal spending on aid to the states increased from $286 billion in fiscal 2000 to an estimated $449 billion in fiscal 2007 and is the third-largest item in the federal budget after Social Security and national defense. The number of different aid programs for the states soared from 463 in 1990, to 653 in 2000, to 814 by 2006," study author Chris Edwards notes.

In other words, Bush and the GOP could have focused on restoring the balance by ending duplicative or failing aid programs; instead they created hundreds of new such programs.

Edwards describes how, once started, the expansion of federal aid programs becomes self-perpetuating: “Federal politicians create programs that deliver funding to, and impose regulations on, state and local governments. Those governments then consume a portion of aid in employee wages and other administrative costs and hand out billions of dollars to private sector grantees and contractors. State and local employees and private organizations, which benefit from aid, create unions and trade associations to lobby Congress and promote higher spending to the public.”

Back in 1776, we called this process erecting “a multitude of new offices” and sending “hither swarms of officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.” Then we declared a revolution to stop it. Today, we can’t seem to stop doing it to ourselves.

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