Who will contain big government?

With Congress back this week, the air is heavy with pointed rhetoric from the Bush administration and Republican leaders on Capitol Hill about the failures of the 110th Congress. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are just as vigorously trying to lay blame on Bush and the GOP for the stalemate in Washington.

Bush and the congressional GOPers do have a point. This Congress, the first with a Democratic majority in more than a decade, has failed on virtually every front to address the country’s biggest problems with effective, responsible solutions.

More worrisome is that playing the partisan blame game lets both sides ignore the fact the federal government has grown so big that it is all but unmanageable.

Democrats have made an incredible mess of their first year back in congressional power. Despite more than 40 unsuccessful attempts, Reid and Pelosi have utterly failed in their efforts to end the U.S. military effort in Iraq. Their latest gambit is $50 billion in short-term funding in return for a firm date for the U.S. military withdrawal regardless of the conditions on the ground. Why do they think they will get a different result this time than they got the first 40 times they tried variations on this theme.

Domestically, Congress has yet to pass 11 of the 12 appropriations bills needed to fund the federal government’s daily operations.

While there has been some progress in exposing earmarks to greater public scrutiny, the failure to fund the government properly reflects the obsession of so many members in both parties in Congress with getting their “fair share” of the pork.

This point was brought home most vividly when the Senate voted overwhelmingly against an amendment to put fixing bad bridges ahead of pork in the federal transportation fund bill.

There is simply too much government for the president to manage effectively or for Congress to fund in a timely manner with appropriate oversight of the results. The federal career civil service numbers more than 1.9 million and is growing, while the government’s “hidden work force” of contractors, consultants and grant recipients exceeds 10.5 million, according to professor Paul Light of New York University.

The Heritage Foundation’s Dependency Index counts more than 60 million people getting federal transfer payments. And no wonder, considering there are now at least 1,776 federal subsidy programs, up 51 percent from 2000, according to the Cato Institute’s Chris Edwards.

Washington’s career politicians should stop throwing partisan bricks at each other and instead focus on rebuilding a smaller, more efficient government that can actually deliver what it promises. Then they should go home, for good.

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