The Role of Government
By Angela Bradbery, 2-25-2011
The Republicans’ insistence on cutting back government spending is ultimately a disguised way to advance their agenda of selectively limiting the role of government in society. (It is selective because they and their corporate backers DO support an aggressive role for government when it comes to policies and activities that benefit big corporations.)
That the real issue is the role of government itself is underscored by congressional Republican budget proposals. As Congress debates a short-term government funding bill, not only are the Republicans proposing to slash vital programs, they are seeking to block, stop or undermine government restraints on Big Business — an array of rules, regulations, programs and enforcement schemes that have little or no budgetary impact, but are hugely important for protecting the public and the environment from predatory corporations.
Among many, many other troubling measures, the House Republican proposals would:
- Eliminate funding for a new consumer product safety database. Removing its funding would deprive consumers of a critical tool — three years in the planning — to report and research safety incidents on toys and other products.
- Slash the budget for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission by roughly a third. Saving only $50 million, this measure would completely hamstring the agency charged with implementing some of the most important components of the Wall Street reform law.
- Eliminate the presidential public financing system.
- Stop the Environmental Protection Agency from listing coal ash as hazardous waste, enforcing rules that would curtail mountaintop-removal coal mining, issuing new rules that would protect rivers from coal waste, or improving air quality standards.
It’s important to emphasize in this discussion that the Obama administration budget proposals, while far superior to the Republican alternative, accept many of the Republican premises — including the most important one, that the government should be reducing spending.
At a time when one in six people who would like a full-time job are unable to find one, the government should be spending more money to put people back to work, get the economy moving and prevent the waste of letting workers and plants remain idle. Instead, the Obama administration has essentially conceded the need for austerity.
Adopting the false politics of scarcity, the president needlessly proposes to shortchange vital public programs. A distressing example is his proposal to slash $3 billion from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which provides cash assistance to poor people to help them pay their utility bills.
One can go program by program, or rider by rider, and explain how misguided are proposals from both the Republicans and the administration. But even more important is to insist on what we want our government to do. We need a strong government. There are of course government programs that should be eliminated or improved. But we do need a government that is able to educate our children, ensure access to health care for all, move us to a clean energy future, keep the economy working, provide a social safety net, and protect us from corporate predations. We need a government that takes seriously its duty to advance the General Welfare.