Who Needs Big Governeent?!?! (wake Up Call)



Starving The Beast


"We're not talking about minor policy adjustments,” says Paul Krugman. “If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained."


The large tax cuts promoted by the right-wing are intentionally designed to force government to cut back severely on social spending.

For decades, a key part of the anti-government agenda of conservatives has been to cut spending on social programs. Their targeted programs have included: health care for the elderly and poor, welfare and food stamps, military retirement, drug abuse centers, unemployment compensation, aid to education, college student loans, nursing homes, employment training, childcare centers, housing subsidies for the elderly and disabled, and school nutrition.  They believe that these programs have grown too large and cost taxpayers to much money.

But attacking social spending has not been easy.  Most Americans think that these programs do a lot of good and do not want to see them cut.  Indeed, as another article on this site points out, most of us want the government to actually spend more on education, retirement, and health care – not less.

So Republicans have developed a tactic for attacking social spending that they hope will not trigger the ire of the public – an indirect attack on these programs.  The tactic?  Tax cuts.   The idea is simple:  if we keep cutting taxes, eventually there won’t be enough money to spend on these social programs and they will have to be reduced. They call this tactic “starving the beast.”   Taxes are what nourish government, and so if that source of nourishment is taken way, government must inevitably shrink. For anti-tax advocates like Grover Norquist, this is the ultimate purpose of tax cuts:  “The goal is reducing the size and scope of government by draining its lifeblood.”1

Milton Friedman, the arch-conservative economist, speaking of ways to limit or reduce the size of government, offered this prescription: “How can we ever cut government down to size? I believe there is only one way: the way parents control spendthrift children, cutting their allowance. For the government, that means cutting taxes. Resulting deficits will be an effective – I would go as far as to say, the only effective – restraint on the spending propensities of the executive branch and the legislature.”2

So underneath all the Republican rhetoric about cutting taxes – all the talk about stimulating the economy and giving money back to hardworking Americans – there is another, deeper political goal: to strangle government social programs.  But this is rarely discussed publicly.  Conservatives focus the public’s attention on what they will gain from the tax cuts, not what they will lose by reducing social programs.

This strategy was first tried in the Reagan administration. He came into office in 1980 promising to balance the federal budget. But he quickly cut taxes and raised military spending, creating huge budget deficits. (Sound familiar?)  This made little sense to many people at the time and was not understood until Reagan’s budget advisor, David Stockman, later revealed that this was a conscious effort to “starve the beast” – a phrase he is reputed to have coined.3 The idea was to put increasing financial pressure on social programs in order to make it easier to cut them. And indeed, it had some effect, with domestic discretionary spending, falling from 4.5% of the economy in 1981 to 3.3% in 1988.3

A series of massive tax cuts during the George W. Bush administration revived this strategy and implemented it in a much more extensive way.  These tax cuts cost the federal government over two trillion dollars ($2,000,000,000,000) in lost revenue from 2001 to 2010 alone.5  As economist Paul Krugman observed at the time, “‘starving the beast’ is no longer a hypothetical scenario. It’s happening as we speak. For decades, conservatives have sought tax cuts, not because they’re affordable, but because they aren’t.”6


The Goal: Massive Cuts in Social Programs

So what kinds of drastic cuts in government social programs are conservatives really after?  To see, we need only look at the 2007 budget proposal made by President Bush. His proposal covered budget goals for the five years from 2007 to 2011. Bush targeted programs such as education, housing, job training, environmental protection, community development, and children’s services for $221 billion in cuts. These would have been severe and unprecedented reductions in these programs. But it is important to see that these kinds of cuts in discretionary spending – whether they were in education or environmental protection – were only part of the starving-the-beast strategy. Anti-government activists were also out for much bigger game: cuts in mandatory spending for the large entitlement programs like Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. These programs form the bulk of federal spending and they were the ultimate targets. The President’s 2007 proposal also hacked away at this kind of mandatory spending – detailing $65 billion in cuts for these programs. This included $36 billion to be taken from Medicare programs and $14 billion for Medicaid. Over $650 million would also have been cut from Food Stamps, thus denying them to over 300,000 people in working families.7

But as draconian as these proposed cuts were, they paled in comparison to the budget reductions being demanded that same year by some Republicans in Congress. The Republican Study Committee, a groups of conservatives members of the House of Representatives, proposed to establish an “entitlement cap” that would have limited the total federal expenditures for entitlement programs other than Social Security. This cap would have required that projected entitlement spending be slashed by $1.8 trillion over the next ten years. That translates into $766 billion cut from Medicare, $405 billion from Medicaid, $114 billion from federal civilian retirement and disability, $66 billion from military retirement and disability, $63 billion from unemployment compensation, and $50 billion from food stamps.8 The Committee argued that such these program cuts were necessary for the “restoration of the American dream.” They were obviously not taking into account the dreams of the elderly, the sick, the disabled, the jobless, and the poor who would have to pay the price for these truly staggering reductions in federal programs.

Ironically, despite having advocated such deep cuts in spending, these conservative budget plans would have done little or nothing to reduce the deficit because they included a new round of large tax cuts – $1.7 trillion in new tax reductions in the case of the President’s budget.

The Deficit Trap

There is an obvious problem with this starving the beast strategy.  On the federal level, cutting taxes does not necessarily require spending cuts: the government may only just borrow money and increase its debt to continue spending. And this is exactly what happened during the Bush administration.  Along with this tax cuts, Bush also oversaw some large increases in government spending – mostly in the area of defense.  The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost an estimated 900 billion dollars between 2001 and 2009.  This combination of increased spending and huge tax cuts caused budget deficits to soar during the Bush years.  This led some conservatives to complain that Bush had abandoned the idea of limited government.  David Brooks concluded in one of his New York Times columns that all this spending and the growing deficits heralded “the death of small government conservatism.”9

But these accusations were misplaced.  They ignored one key fact:  growing deficits were entirely consistent with the long-term plan to reduce government.  The hope was that soaring deficits and a rapidly growing national debt would eventually force policymakers to reduce government spending – whether they liked it or not.   From its very first days, the Bush administration embraced deficits as a good way to reign in government. In August of 2001, as the federal budget surpluses began to disappear and new deficits began to loom, the president had an unusual fit of candor and described these developments as "incredibly positive news," arguing that this would now put Congress in a "fiscal straitjacket."10 Republicans in Congress also came around to this point of view. As conservative Rick Santorum explained it, he first hated deficits, but then came to like them because they made it harder to pass any new spending bills.  “I came to the House as a real deficit hawk but I am no longer a deficit hawk. I’ll tell you why. …Deficits make it easier to say no.”11

Clearly if the Republicans had remained in power in Washington and their program of massive tax cuts had continued, deeper reductions in spending for mandatory programs, even including Social Security, would eventually have become inevitable. Deficits and public debt simply cannot continue to grow forever. At some point, the federal government eventually has to start paying its bills. As Paul Krugman has explained, the crunch would most like come when baby boomers begin to retire and start making increasing demands on the Social Security and Medicare systems. At that point, the gap between the government’s income and its outlays would become alarmingly large. The government would have no choice but to either rapidly raise taxes or drastically cut spending. Given the difficulty of raising taxes, the most likely scenario – and the one anti-government conservatives would favor – would be for government to dramatically slash spending. "We're not talking about minor policy adjustments,” says Krugman. “If taxes stay as low as they are now, government as we know it cannot be maintained."12 He predicts that we could experience cuts of up to 40% on some of the largest government programs: "Social Security will have to become far less generous; Medicare will no longer be able to guarantee comprehensive medical care to older Americans; Medicaid will no longer provide basic medical care to the poor."13

 When the Democrats took control of the White House and Congress in 2008, it seemed that finally the tax cuts and the attacks on social spending would stop – which did in fact occur.   But the huge deficits and growing national debt of the Bush era continue to act as a “fiscal straightjacket” for the Democrats and have been preventing them from increasing funding for badly needed programs.   To make matters worse, the severe recession that started in 2008 greatly reduced federal revenue and required a surge in spending for an economic stimulus package – all of which created large yearly deficits.  In reaction to this, President Obama proposed a three year freeze on most domestic spending – an idea that made many Republicans positively gleeful.  Unless Democrats are willing to raise taxes – and many are reluctant to do so – there is a good chance that the “starving the beast” strategy of the anti-government movement will strangle any efforts to increase social spending and eventually  create a fiscal crisis that will require large cuts in social programs.  A very worrying situation to say the least.


Starving the States

Today, while the Democrats are firmly in control of Washington, conservatives still control many state and local governments.  And it is on this level that we see the most dramatic effects of the starving-the-beast strategy.  In large part, this is due to an enormous advantage that anti-government activists have on these levels of government: virtually all states and cities must balance their budgets. So when revenues fall or expenses increase, these governments cannot borrow to make up the difference; they must either cut programs or raise taxes.  Conservatives have often been successful in blocking tax increases, which has meant that states have had no choice but to reduce spending on social programs.

During the recession that began in 2008, most states cut their social spending – often in disturbing ways.  Many of these cuts fell on these states’ most vulnerable residents. Several states cut reimbursements to nursing homes or made it more difficult for the elderly to qualify for nursing home care. Twenty-one states implemented cuts that restricted low income children’s access to health insurance.   Services for the elderly and disabled were cut in 22 states.  Educational spending also took big hits, with state aid for K-12 education reduced in 24 states. Funds were also cut for higher education in 32 states, forcing some to raise tuition by more than 10%. 14

Clearly, the decline in state revenues caused by the recession played a large role in these budget cuts.  But that is not all that was going on.  Many states have had ongoing fiscal problems, and in many cases those problems have been caused or exacerbated by conservative forces who have attacked the abilities of states and local governments to raise needed taxes.  For example, the foundations for many states’ fiscal problems were laid in the 1990s when state-level anti-government groups waged successful campaigns to reduce taxes. Between 1994 and 2001, under political pressure from conservatives, 44 states passed significant tax cuts. The effects of these cuts were masked at first by the stock market boom that increased the states’ returns on investments in the late 1990s. But now, with the stock market boom long gone, those cuts have come home to roost and are costing the states an estimated $40 billion or more a year in lost revenue – a significant cause of the long-term fiscal difficulties in many states.15

Conservatives have also been successful in many states in installing caps on certain tax rates. In Massachusetts, for example, local property taxes cannot be increased by more than 3.5% a year.  In many years, city expenses have risen faster than that rate and tax revenues have not kept up.  This has forced many cities to repeatedly cut public school budgets – firing teachers, reducing courses offerings, eliminating sports, and increasing class sizes.  Cities have also been forced to reduce fire and police staffing and limit essential public services like snow plowing and road repair.

Fourteen states also now require supermajorities for the raising of some taxes – and this has become particularly problematic. Supermajorities require that 60%, 67%, or even 75% of the legislators must agree before taxes can be raised – rather than the simple majority of 50% plus one that applies to other kinds of legislation. This allows a anti-tax minority to block majority rule.  In some states, for instance, a majority of citizens in local school districts have often voted to raise taxes to help fund education – but they have been frustrated because they couldn’t marshal the needed two-thirds majority. Statutory requirements like supermajorities and tax caps are the some of the best political weapons used by anti-government forces, because they make it all but impossible to raise taxes and this forces state and local governments to cut spending on programs.

Making matters even worse, conservatives are now pushing efforts to establish constitutional caps on state government expenditures – plans that would limit spending growth to the rate of inflation plus population growth. The first state to adopt this approach, Colorado in 1992, saw its public services deteriorate significantly. For example, it dropped from 35th to 49th in K-12 spending as a share of personal income, and from 35th to 48th in higher education funding as share of personal income.16 In 2005, citizens in Colorado voted to suspend this amendment for five years so that they can restore needed funding to vital services. The disastrous results in Colorado have not stopped anti-government activists from launching campaigns to pass similar amendments in 15 other states.

The Case of California

The severe and ongoing budget problems in California are a good example of the kind of damage that anti-government activists can do on the state level.  During the recent recession, the state ran into billions of dollars of deficits and was force to make draconian cuts in states programs and services.  The main problem was not excessive spending, but excessive restrictions on the taxing ability of the state, which made it all but impossible for it to raise taxes to deal responsibly with its fiscal crisis.

The problems for California began decades ago when obstacles to tax increases were introduced into the state constitution by an anti-tax campaign.  Proposition 13 was passed in 1978 and capped property taxes at ridiculously low levels.  Cities and counties were then forced to try to raise other assessments and fees in order to continue to supply basic public services.  But anti-tax zealots were then able to pass Proposition 218, which prevented cities from raising those fees without the approval of two-thirds of the voters – usually an impossible barrier to overcome.

This left localities no choice but to go begging to the state government for needed revenues. But Proposition 13 actually worked to restrict this source of funds as well.  It mandated that the state could not increase taxes without the approval of two-thirds of both houses of the legislature.  This anti-democratic arrangement has allowed a minority of tax-hating lawmakers to frustrate the majority and consistently block any efforts to raise needed revenues.

Faced with these anti-tax restrictions, the state had no choice but to institute a series of very damaging cuts in state services.  Severe cuts were made in aid to K-12 school systems.  California’s public schools already ranked 34th among the states in per-pupil expenditures and 49th in teacher-student ratio – a disgraceful situation that could only be worsened by new budget cuts.  Millions of children have been denied medical coverage.  Large cuts have also been made in many other essential programs, including mental health services, mass transit, home health care, food stamps, prisons, and aid to the blind and disabled.  State colleges and universities have become more expensive and less accessible. 

The Effects of Starvation on Education and Infrastructure

Sometimes the effects of starving the beast are serious, but not immediately obvious.  Some vital public sector programs have been reduced so gradually that the effects may not be clear to many in the public.  Two examples of this are the effects of funding cuts on higher education and infrastructure development.

In recent years, spending for state higher education institutions has taken a hard hit. States have been cutting budgets for public colleges and universities – which produce three quarters of all degrees in the United States. Teaching positions are being cut, class sizes are spiraling, and needed maintenance is being neglected. Some colleges are now unable to provide students with the required courses they need to finish their degrees. In addition, states have been raising their tuitions and cutting financial aid. A study by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave the public college and university systems in 43 states a grade of “F” for affordability.17 This means that many low and middle-income students simply cannot afford college anymore – in one year alone a half million were turned away for lack of money.18

Crucial infrastructure spending is also being neglected. A study by the American Society of Civil Engineers found that America’s infrastructure is in terrible shape and blamed low levels of investment by state and federal governments. They estimated that over the next five years it would take at least $1.6 trillion to bring our national infrastructure into an acceptable state. 19 Some excerpts from the report:

Roads and transit systems are in peril. Funding at the federal, state and local levels is in danger of drying up and citizens are failing to invest in their communities' futures. The nation is failing to even maintain the substandard conditions we currently have, a dangerous trend that is affecting highway safety, as well as the health of the economy. … 27.5% of the nation's bridges (162,000) were structurally deficient or functionally obsolete. …The nation's 16,000 waste water systems face enormous needs. Some sewer systems are 100 years old and many treatment facilities are past their recommended life expectancy. Currently, there is a $12 billion annual shortfall in funding for these infrastructure needs. …Due to either aging, outdated facilities, severe overcrowding, or new mandated class sizes, 75% of our nation's school buildings remain inadequate to meet the needs of school children. While school construction spending has increased, the cost to remedy the situation remains more than $127 billion.

Clearly this failure to invest in our infrastructure has produced a looming crisis – one that can only be addressed with higher taxes and more spending on the state and federal level. But in 2006, the Republican Study Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives actually proposed that federal spending for highways, bridges, mass transit and other infrastructure development and repair be cut by $103 billion by 2011.

Seeing the wide spread negative effects – and human costs – of all of these cuts in services, programs, and investments on the state level, you might expect that conservatives would have second thoughts about their anti-tax and anti-spending policies. But amazingly, these kinds of problems have actually been welcomed by anti-government activists. Reports indicate that the Bush White House was happy to see states and their citizens caught in a fiscal crunch and forced to cut programs, and had no desire to help bail them out.  Numerous administration officials stated privately that the states’ fiscal problems would play a useful role in shrinking state governments.20 And anti-tax activist Grover Norquist seemed almost gleeful about the fiscal troubles being faced by states, remarking that “I hope a state goes bankrupt.”21

There is an Alternative

It doesn’t have to be this way in state governments. In fact, it hasn’t always been this way. In the days before the anti-tax movement took hold in the U.S., many states had a vibrant public sector with healthy investments in infrastructure projects and adequately funded social programs for state residents. In his book, Paradise Lost, Peter Schrag offers the following descriptions of pre- and post-Proposition 13 California:

California was once widely regarded has both model and magnet for the nation – in its economic opportunities, its social outlook, and its high-quality public services and institutions. With a nearly free and universally accessible system of public higher education, a well supported public school system, an ambitious agenda of public works projects – in irrigation and flood control; in highway construction and park development – and a wide array of social services and human rights guarantees that had no parallel in any other state California seem to have an optimism about its population, possibilities, and future....

But California ... is no longer the progressive model in its public institutions and services, or in its social ethic, that it once was. California's schools, which 30 years ago had been among the most generously funded in the nation, are now in the bottom quarter among the states in virtually every major indicator – in physical condition, in public funding, in test scores – closer in most of them to Mississippi than to New York or Connecticut or New Jersey. The state, which had almost doubled in population since the early 1960s, has built some 20 new prisons in the past two decades, but has not opened one new campus of the University of California for nearly three decades. Its once celebrated freeway system is now rated is among the most dilapidated road networks in the country. Many of its public libraries operate on reduced hours, and some have closed altogether. The state's social benefits, once among the nation's most generous, had been cut and cut again, and then cut again. And what had once been a tuition-free college and university system, while still among the world's great public educational institutions, struggles for funds and charges as much as every other state university system, and in some cases more."22


Schrag laments what he has termed the “Mississippication” of California. He has nothing against Mississippi, but is simply referring to the reputation that state has for stingy social programs, abysmal schools, inadequate health care programs, and a poor quality of life. This is what could be in store for all of us if government is reduced to an emaciated state. If the anti-government and anti-tax crusaders have their way, we will all be living in Mississippi, whether we want to or not.


For more on how anti-government activists have been attacking vital government programs, see Stealth Deregulation.


Stealth Deregulation: The Untold Story


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"The takeover of regulatory agencies by special interests and anti-government ideologues was an assault on public protections."


Whenever possible, Republican presidents have pursued a policy of widespread deregulation. They have used a variety of stealth tactics to undermine important financial, environmental, consumer and workplace regulations.

The 2009 outbreak of salmonella in several peanut butter factories was yet another case of the breakdown of regulation and oversight by the federal government.  Consider also the Security and Exchange Commission’s inability to catch the massive fraud schemes of investment charlatans like Bernie Madoff and R. Allen Stanford.  And of course it is now clear that the deregulation of the financial sector was a major cause of the mortgage crisis and the resulting meltdown of the American economy.

Some people have blamed such regulatory lapses on the inherent incompetence of the federal government.  But these failures have little to do with incompetence and everything to do with the rise of a conservative, anti-government ideology that has been fundamentally hostile to regulation.   “Deregulation” was the mantra of President Bush and his Republican predecessors, and many of the problems we are now facing are the predictable result of this failed political philosophy.  Importantly, these conservatives not only undermined federal oversight of the food system and the financial sector, they also worked to reduce protections for consumers, workers, and the environment.

But most Americans do not know the full story about this effort to weaken and dismantle regulatory protections for the public.   Indeed, most were not even aware that it was happening on such a wide scale.  That is because much of this deregulation was accomplished behind closed doors, deep in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy where it got little attention.

This article will bring to light how this strategy of stealth deregulation was pursued in the administrative branch under George W. Bush.  It is a story of devious appointments, slashed budgets, weakened rules, and relaxed enforcement.  I will also discuss what needs to be done to solve the problems caused by this era of runaway deregulation. 

The Attack of the Anti-Regulators

Imagine the following scenario: a new president comes into office and announces that he will appoint a dedicated pacifist to head the Department of Defense and a mafia lawyer as Director of the FBI. What would be the reaction? Many in the public would be outraged and the media would go into a feeding frenzy. In short, all hell would break loose.

In reality, of course, the chances of a president getting away with such ridiculous and disruptive appointments would be slim to none. And yet President George W. Bush did essentially the same thing: he routinely appointed officials whose political priorities ran exactly counter to the missions of the agencies they were charged with running. And many of these appointees worked for or represented the very industries that these agencies were supposed to be policing. For example, important posts in the Food and Drug Administration were filled by people who had careers working for the drug industry.

Exhibit One is Daniel Troy, who Bush appointed to be Chief Counsel for the Food and Drug Administration. Previously, as a lawyer, he filed a number of lawsuits against the FDA arguing against its right to regulate drug companies. Once in office, he stalled efforts to investigate the problems surrounding ephedra - a dietary supplement implicated in the deaths of more than 100 people. Amazingly, in a speech he gave to drug industry lawyers after his appointment, he offered the help of the government in defending these companies against lawsuits by consumers, such as those claiming that medications caused devastating side effects. Not coincidentally, enforcement actions against improper drug advertising went down dramatically after his appointment.

J. Steven Griles was another example of a Bush appointment that seemed designed to sabotage the agency to which he was appointed.  He served as Deputy Secretary of the Interior in Bush’s first term. He worked previously as a high-paid lobbyist for the coal and oil companies – the very industries he was then put in charge of regulating. Not surprisingly, the National Mining Associated celebrated his appointment, lauding him as “an ally of the industry.” And to top it off, while working for the government, he still received $284,000 a year from his former lobbying firm that continued to represent those industries.

This strategy of handing over regulatory bodies to the industries they are supposed to regulate has been dubbed by critics as “foxes guarding the henhouse.” Among some of the other more obvious foxes in the Bush administration:

Eugene Scalia, appointed to be Labor Department Solicitor. Scalia’s sympathies were unlikely to be on the side of labor since his previous job was specializing in anti-labor law and representing the management side in labor disputes. He also represented many of the companies that were opposing the new ergonomic rules that were later abandoned by the Department.

Jeffrey Holmstead, who became the EPA's assistant administrator for Air and Radiation. How protective could he be of the environment when he formerly worked as lawyer representing numerous corporations seeking to block environmental regulations? He eventually headed the administration’s efforts to relax clean air requirements for coal-fired power plants – a move that Sen. James Jeffords called “the biggest rollback of the Clear Air Act in history.”

Marianne Horinko, Asst. Administrator for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response – in charge the Superfund program to clean up toxic waste sites. Before this, she worked as an attorney representing the industry side in Superfund suits. The rate at which Superfund sites were being cleaned up fell dramatically under the Bush Administration.

Michael F. Duffy, Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission. His primary experience was working as an attorney for the National Mining Association and the American Mining Congress.

Chuck Lambert, United States Department of Agriculture official in charge of regulating the meat packing industry. His previous job was working for a lobbying group for National Cattleman’s Beef Association. He was just one of a dozen people with ties to the meat industry who were appointed to the USDA, leading one consumer advocate to observe that “the USDA gives the impression of being a wholly owned subsidiary of America’s cattlemen."1

And these are just a few examples. An investigative reporter for the Denver Post found that over 100 of the high level officials appointed by President Bush in this first term of office were “overseeing” the industries they used to represent as lobbyists, employees, or lawyers. As Maria Weidner of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund observed at the time: “They are lawyers and lobbyists who build their careers by helping industry get out of … regulations. Now they will be doing the same things, only the taxpayers will be paying for it."2


The Deregulation Playbook

Once these anti-regulatory ideologues and industry representatives were in place, they were free to begin to impede the regulatory process and to undermine regulations passed by Congress. The specific tactics varied, but included:

Stalling.   Agency personnel routinely and systematically delayed in formulating and issuing regulations mandated by law.  For example, even though the Bush administration promised to act quickly to devise urgently needed rules to protect the right whale from extinction, it took the maximum time allowed by law, then refused to issue the rule, in violation of the law, for an additional 453 days. 3

Cutting Their Own Budgets.   Remarkably, Bush appointees routinely tried to cut the budgets of their own agencies – making it more difficult for them to do their job.  The budget for mine safety inspections, for instance, went from $139 million in 2001 or $118 million in 2006.

Inactivity.  Administrators simply ignored emerging problems.  In the area of workplace safety, despite evidence of a number of threats to Americans on the job, the Bush Occupational Safety and Health Administration largely sat on its hands during its entire tenure – issuing only one significant new regulation in eight years.  Also, for years Bush environmental officials refused to admit that global warming was a serious issue that merited immediate action.

Reducing Enforcement.    Regulations are only effective if they are enforced vigorously.  Bush appointees routinely worked to weaken enforcement.  For example, they cut the civil penalties that polluters had to pay by half – weakening the incentives to comply with environmental protection rules.  Another example was the reduction of inspectors and inspections in areas like food safety and mine safety.  In 2003, the FDA conducted over 11,000 inspections a year for food safety – a figure that fell to 6,000 by 2007. 

“Relaxing” Rules.   Bush officials would look for opportunities to create exceptions or loopholes to rules so that various businesses could escape regulation.  For example, they relaxed nationwide permit rules so coal companies, developers, and others could fill in thousands of streams, swamps, and other wetlands, without public notice or comment.

Listening Only to Industry.   Many Bush appointees met routinely with business lobbyists interested in deregulation, but met only rarely or never with representatives of public interest groups.   For example, **** Cheney and other officials on the Energy Task Force met dozens of times with business leaders from the oil, gas, coal, and nuclear industries. Only one meeting was held for environmental groups – it lasted just one hour and much of that was taken up with introductions of the participants.

Refusing to Fill Appointments.   Bush often took an inordinate amount of time filling high-level management vacancies in agencies he didn’t like.  This left these agencies adrift, often run by temporary appointments who tended to not be very aggressive in pursuing the mandate of these organizations. 

Ignoring Expert Advice.   When research produced results that the Bush administration did not like, administration officials often ignored it and refused to act on it.   A particularly egregious example was the suppression of scientific research about the seriousness of global warming and the attempt to gag administration scientists who tried to speak out on this issue.

Embracing “Voluntary” Regulation.   Abandoning aggressive approaches to regulatory enforcement – like the use of the courts to force compliance – the Bush administration   favored “voluntary” compliance schemes which often had little effect.  The SEC, for instance, relied heavily on voluntary regulation of financial institutions.   After the financial meltdown in 2008, the Chairman of SEC admitted that this approach was “fundamentally flawed from the beginning … because investment banks could opt in or out of supervision voluntarily.

The Secret Office of Deregulatory Affairs

Just in case some federal administrators forgot what administration they were in and become too enthusiastic about initiating regulatory protections, the Bush White House vigorously employed the oversight powers of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Created in the Reagan administration, this little-known 50-person unit is buried in the Office of Management and Budget. In conservative administrations, the job of the OIRA is to review every proposed regulation and see it if may be too costly, particularly to business. If so, it is sent back to the particular agency for review or repeal. For much of the Bush administration, this agency was run by John Graham – a well-known opponent of much federal regulation. In the past, he had written that efforts to regulate such things as nuclear power and PCBs were simply a product of “a hypochondria raging among various consumer advocates and public interest groups.”4

Graham was particularly enthusiastic in using his unique administrative powers to frustrate regulation. During the eight years of the Clinton Administration, the OIRA sent back only 16 proposed regulations. In his first year alone Graham sent back 19 regulations. And in his second year, his office identified 326 regulations for possible rejection or softening.  Not surprisingly, many of these regulations were specifically targeted by various business interests and right-wing think tanks. In fact, when Graham entered office, he secretly surveyed business groups in order to compile of hit list of regulations they considered too onerous. The list included a wide variety of environmental, health, and safety regulations, including some addressing pesticide use, coal-mine ventilation, air and water quality, lead paint disclosure, toxic-release reporting, and family and medical leave. According to one lobbyist, “This was hush-hush, behind closed-doors stuff.” For business interests, this process showed them that Graham was on their side. As another lobbyist observed, “With Graham in that job, we figured we could get whatever we want.”5

New (Anti) Regulatory Philosophies

Anti-government ideologues in the Bush administration were not only trying to relax regulations and their enforcement, they were also trying to change the way administrators think about regulations. They were promoting new “regulatory philosophies” that primarily functioned as rationalizations for more deregulation. One new way of thinking about regulation that proved particularly dangerous to the public and the environment was cost-benefit analysis. The Bush administration acted vigorously to impose strict cost-benefit tests on all new proposed regulations, insisting that the benefits of new rules outweigh the costs. One of the chief promoters of this approach has been none other than John Graham, the one-time head of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs discussed earlier – a man who believes America has become highly over-regulated. At first glance, cost-benefit analysis sounds pretty reasonable – no one wants regulations that create more harm than good, right? But the problem is that there is a strong anti-regulatory bias in this analytic process.

Consider this: it is usually much easier to calculate the costs of regulations than it is to quantify the resulting benefits for society. For example, one can easily find out how many millions it would cost a utility to install a scrubber on a coal burning utility plant; but how much is it worth in dollars to save a life, or to reduce disease, or to have cleaner air? There are no markets for such things, and so they are difficult to “monetize.” This means that many benefits will always seem less important than the costs of the proposed regulations. The Bush administration admitted as much in 2004 when it deleted 55 pages describing benefits of a program to save an endangered species, leaving only the sections describing the costs to industry. An official explained that it was “too difficult to monetize the value of a species" – and the agency then used the amended report to justify cutting back the amount of protected habitat.6

Consider also what happened when the EPA proposed new regulations to limit runoff from construction and development sites, the largest source of pollution in coastal waters and estuaries in the U.S. During construction and development, massive amounts of sediments are carried into our water systems, and these activities also greatly increase storm water runoff that contain pollutants like pesticides, oil, grease, and fertilizers. But officials in the Bush White House gutted the proposal because the EPA was not able to put a dollar figure on the benefits the new regulations would produce for natural ecosystems and human health.7

Stealth Tactics Designed to Undermine Accountability

For conservatives, one of the main advantages of these kinds of deregulation tactics was that they took place deep in the bowels of the federal bureaucracy and so these decisions often flew underneath the public radar.  Republicans were well aware that most Americans actually wanted more regulation, not less, in many areas like the environment and health care. For example, 60% want the government to spend more money on environmental protection. And only 7% of Americans want less regulation of pharmaceutical and drug companies, and 57% want more. And when conservatives tried to roll back these kinds of regulations in Congress during the 1990s, the public quickly found out and reacted very negatively. So to avoid this kind of public backlash, conservatives turned to “stealth tactics.” Once they had control of the presidency, they largely abandoned attacking consumer, environmental and workplace regulations in Congress where everyone could see what is going on, and instead turned to undermining these regulations in the dark halls of the federal bureaucracies. The idea seemed to be this: what people don’t know about, they are unlikely to get upset about.

What Can Be Done

But while few Americans knew about all of these deregulation efforts, we are all now painfully aware of many of their disastrous consequences.  People do tend to notice when their food makes them sick and their retirements funds are cut in half.  Clearly many of the public are now outraged by the results of runaway deregulation, but what can they do about it?

First, the public must reject the conservative philosophy that fueled the deregulation fervor in the first place: the belief that the best market is an unregulated one.  By now it should be abundantly clear that unregulated markets are prone to any number of problems and that there are legitimate reasons for government to step into regulate them for the public interest.  (For a description of the numerous failures inherent in a free market economy, see “Capitalism Requires Government.”)  And it should also be evident that we cannot always trust businesses to do the right thing – that they have to put corporate profits before the public interest.

Second, we must elect leaders who appreciate the importance of regulation as a way of protecting the public interest.  Fortunately, we now have a president who understands this point and who has pledged to use the administrative powers of government to actively protect consumers, workers, and the environment.   President Obama has appointed regulators who not only have expertise in the areas of their responsibility, but who also have pledged to vigorously enforce the rules and regulations of their agencies.  The president has also promised that science and research will once again play a respected role in the formation of regulatory policies.

We must also insist that Congress step up to bat on these issues – something it has not always done, even when Democrats have been in control.  It needs to ensure that agencies have the funds necessary to do their jobs effectively.  Last year, for instance, Congress passed a bill increasing the funding for the Consumer Product and Safety Commission, which should now allow this agency to increase a staff that had been reduced to almost half of what it was in the early 1980s.  Increased budgets for other key agencies are also needed.  Further, Congress needs to increase its oversight of these agencies, and not wait until some disaster has struck before it calls hearings about a malfunctioning agency.

All of this recent activity to begin to revitalize our regulatory system is a good sign.  But this should not be taken to mean that conservatives have given up on their efforts to promote deregulation.  They have been dealt a serious blow, but they can be expected to eventually return to their anti-regulatory agenda when they can – especially if the Republicans were to gain control of the presidency and the administrative branch once again.  This fight is far from over.


1. Anne C. Mulkern, “When Advocates Become Regulators,” May 23, 2004, Denver Post.

2. Earthjustice and Public Campaign, “Paybacks: Policies, Patrons, and Personnel,” September 2002.

3.  This and many of the other examples in this section come from The Bush Legacy:  An Assault on Public Protections, a highly information 2009 report put out by OMB Watch.  http://www.ombwatch.org/node/3877

4. Carl Pope, Strategic Ignorance (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 2004) p. 52.

5. Michael Grunwald, “Business Lobbyists Ask to Discuss Onerous Rules,” Washington Post, December 4, 2001.

6. Sherry Devlin, “Feds: Benefits of Bull Trout too Hard to Put a Value On,” The Missoulian, April 7, 2004.

7. “Special Interest Takeover: The Bush Administration and the Dismantling of Public Safeguards” (Washington, D.C.: The Citizens for Sensible Safeguards Coalition, 2004), p. 54.


The Anti-State Coalition


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"The anti-government coalition is much more extensive that it first appears."


Who makes up this well-organized and well-funded political movement dedicated to radically reducing American government?

To understand how the anti-government movement has become so powerful in this country, you need to appreciate the extensive network of organizations and groups involved in promoting its agenda.   The anti-government coalition is much more extensive that it first appears.  Conservative policymakers and the Republican Party are only the tip of the iceberg. There are several other different kinds of groups who are playing key roles in this effort to denigrate and reduce government. These groups include: think-tanks, the right-wing media, grassroots anti-tax organizations, and parts of the Christian Right.   Even more important are two groups operating largely in the background funneling billions of dollars into the anti-government effort:  wealthy conservative philanthropists and the business community.

Anti-Government Idea Factories. Ideas, information, and analysis are forms of political power. They are extremely useful for promoting and justifying particular policy positions. Conservative and libertarian think tanks have become a main source of this kind intellectual power for the anti-government movement. They have come to play an essential role by (1) refining the anti-government political philosophy; (2) developing a political language that frames current discussions and debates in ways that are inherently critical of government; (3) conducting studies to justify reducing government; and (4) providing the specific policy plans to implement this reduction. In effect, think tanks have become the intellectual arms dealers for the war on government – providing the intellectual ammunition needed by those who are fighting to de-fund and dismantle government.

Not all the activities of these think tanks are focused on anti-government policies – they also work on social issues, foreign policy, and other conservative concerns. But virtually all the main conservative think tanks do have an explicit commitment to reducing government and dedicate a substantial part of their work to this goal. The largest and most influential think tanks with anti-government agendas are the Heritage Foundation, the American Enterprise Institute, and the Cato Institute. These organizations are now considered among the most powerful think tanks in Washington. As The Wall Street Journal observed: "No policy shop has more clout than the conservative Heritage Foundation.” The libertarian Cato Institute is one of the most vociferous in its attacks on government – and in the words of the Washington Post, “Cato is now the hot policy shop” in the capitol.

The prominence and influence of these conservative and libertarian idea factories is not surprising, given that their collective budgets are four times that of liberal think tanks.1   The Heritage Foundation alone has an annual budget of over $40 million; and it is estimate that over the last several decades, conservative donors have funneled over $1 billion into the top-twenty right-wing think tanks.2


The primary work of these organizations is to develop and push their anti-government/pro-business ideas to the press, policymakers and the public. They hire the best conservative experts in the areas of tax policy, welfare, privatization, environmental regulation, health care, Social Security, tort reform, education, and so on. These people churn out dozens of books and hundreds of articles a year. Their most important product, however, is the material created explicitly for the media and thus intended to affect the broader public. They churn out thousands of press releases, op-ed pieces, and editorials conveying their conservative – and largely anti-government – message. They also spend consider able time responding to reporter queries, appearing on television news and talk shows, and arranging press conferences to publicize their latest policy ideas.


Also influential are the policy handbooks put out by these organizations – books containing scores of specific policy proposals spanning the complete range of issues. The Washington Post described Cato’s Handbook on Policy as “a soups to nuts agenda to reduce spending, kill federal programs, terminate whole agencies and dramatically restrict the power of the federal government.” Among other things, the handbook advocates repealing all anti-trust laws, cutting virtually all federal student aid programs, eliminating all welfare programs, and terminating the Medicaid health care program for the poor – just a few of the more than 100 programs it wants to eradicate.


These handbooks are used as policy blueprints by many conservative lawmakers, administrators, and their staffs. The Reagan administration said publicly that it relied heavily on the 3,000-page, 20-volume set of policy recommendations compiled by the Heritage Foundation, and the think tank later claimed that that the administration implemented 60 to 65 percent of Heritage’s policy recommendations. George W. Bush’s administration also used similar tomes from Heritage, Cato, and other think tanks as guides for its policy initiatives.


Importantly, these flagship conservative think tanks are only the tip of the iceberg. There is now a vast network of almost 500 right-wing think tanks spread across the fifty states – a staggering number.3 Some, like the Heartland Institute in Illinois, produce conservative policy “play books” for state legislatures. Others focus on specific policy areas. For example, there are several legal think tanks – like the Mountain States Legal Foundation – that specialize in developing legal attacks against environmental laws and regulations.


The Marketers. Conservatives have built a powerful media machine consisting of right-wing magazines, newspapers, book publishers, and news networks. The right is particularly dominant in the new media outlets that have arisen during the last several decades. They now almost completely monopolize the radio talk show business, and hundreds of radio stations are owned by openly conservative enterprises. The Christian Right also has its own extensive network of broadcasting outlets. Many American now get their television news from cable news networks with obvious conservative slants like the top-rated FOX News Channel. And the right has a substantial presence on the internet with sites like the Drudge Report that get millions of hits a day.

What makes this media machine so effective is not simply the millions of people it reaches every day, but also the extreme forms of government bashing that it engages in. Right-wing media stars like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh engage in the most vicious and vitriolic attacks on government and government officials. They dispense misinformation about government programs, spread rumors about government malfeasance, and dwell on political scandals. They regularly resort to malicious slurs against government officials, calling them “idiots,” “Nazis,” “communists,” “fascists,” and “Satanists.” In general, their role in the anti-government movement is to defame, denigrate, and delegitimize government – to encourage distrust and even hatred of government and its programs. These pundits are the political cheerleaders who try to whip the crowd into an anti-government frenzy.

The Tax-Haters.  There are very few grassroot political groups that are primarily anti-government in orientation.   One of the exceptions is the anti-tax movement.   800 of these anti-tax groups are active on the state and local level in the United States.  Typically, they are strongly libertarian in orientation and many firmly believe that “taxation is theft.”  They often want to get rid of virtually all taxes, including income taxes, property taxes, corporate taxes, and capital gain taxes; and they want to reduce government to a very minimum.  Recently the influence of these radical anti-taxers has been magnified by their participation in the Tea Party movement.  Although the Tea Party movement is made up a diverse set of right-wing and libertarian types, the anti-taxers have played a large role in focusing the movement’s collective anger toward taxes and big government in general.  The extensive media attention that has been given to the Tea Party movement has given the anti-tax zealots and their radically anti-government ideas more exposure and legitimacy than they have enjoyed before.

The Religious objectors to Big Government.  Another grassroots group that is beginning to play a larger role in the anti-government coalition is the Christian Right.  Traditionally, this political movement has been mostly concerned with social issues, like abortion and gay marriage.  But in recent years, there has been a shift toward a broader anti-government stance by some – though not nearly all – Christian conservatives.  That shift is based on the growing popularity of the idea that the Constitution was inspired by God.   It is argued that many of the principles guiding the framers of the Constitution – such as limited government – were divinely inspired.   Thus any efforts by liberals, like President Obama, to expand government and its programs are seen as a product of “atheistic Marxism” and must be opposed on religious grounds.  An important book that has been guiding this movement is The 5,000 Year Leap” by Cleon Skousen, a controversial Mormon theologian who has identified 28 “divine principles” that guided the nation’s founders.   Heavily promoted by Glenn Beck on Fox News, this book rocketed to #1 on Amazon during the summer of 2009.   Skousen also wrote books on the Red Menace and the New World Order conspiracy, and for most of the time before his death in 2006 was widely considered a right-wing crank, even by many conservatives.  But this idea of a divinely inspired commitment to minimal government has the potential to encourage many fundamentalist Christians to participate more actively in the anti-government movement.

The Philanthropists. So where is all the money coming from to support the widespread activities of all the various parts of the anti-government coalition? Some minimal-government groups, like the NRA, receive most of their funding from members’ donations. But much of the billions of dollars that have been donated to various parts of the anti-government movement have come from right-wing philanthropists – extremely wealthy individuals and the conservative foundations they have established. For example, many of the major conservative and anti-government think tanks were created, virtually single-handedly, by grants from these philanthropists and their foundations. Joseph Coors initially bankrolled the Heritage Foundation in the 1970s. Then, between 1985 and 2003, right-wing foundations provided Heritage with over $57,000,000. The bulk of the Heritage’s yearly income still comes from foundations and wealthy individuals – 72% – with the rest coming from corporate donations, return on investments, and sales of materials.5


Conservative foundations donate money to many different parts of the anti-government coalition, funneling millions to think tanks, academic institutions, lobbying groups, right-wing media outlets, and grassroots organizations.6 The major givers include the Sarah Scaife Foundation, the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, the John M. Olin Foundation, the Shelby Cullom Davis Foundation, and the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation. The spending pattern of the ultraconservative Koch family is typical. Charles Koch founded the libertarian Cato Institute. His brother David ran as the Libertarian candidate for president in 1980 and founded Citizens for a Sound Economy, another leading conservative think tank. They also direct three family foundations, which continue to make substantial donations to both of these think tanks – more than $12 million to each one between 1985 and 2002. Other think tanks receiving substantial Koch family support include the Heritage Foundation, the Hudson Institute, and the Heartland Institute. Considerable funds also go the Reason Foundation, publisher of the libertarian Reason magazine, and to various conservative and libertarian legal organizations, including the Federalist society and Institute for Justice. Finally, the Koch foundations have funneled huge sums into academia to support conservative scholars and programs. The primary beneficiary has been George Mason University, which has received over $23 million between 1985 and 2002, including a $10 million grant to help set up the James M. Buchanan Center for the Study of Political Economy.7


The approach of these conservative foundations differs in important ways from that of centrist and liberal organizations like the Ford foundation. Liberal money tends to go to projects concerned with specific issues: women’s health, prison reform, human rights, etc. But conservative foundations tend to provide long-term support for entire organizations and are not interested so much in specific projects as they are in promoting a broader ideological agenda. As one analyst of right-wing foundations concluded: “[their] grant making primarily is aimed at two overriding objectives: limiting government and freeing markets from regulations – and shaping public opinion accordingly.”8 David Koch made this same point when he described the main aim of his contributions: “My overall concept is to minimize the role of government and to maximize the role of private economy and to maximize personal freedom."


Government as the Champion of Justice, Equality, Freedom, and Security

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"If we cherish important public values like justice and equality, we need a public sector strong enough and well-funded enough to make these things a reality."

Government is the main promoter of important pubic values, such as justice, that are essential to a good society. Without a strong public sector, life in America would be less just, less free, more unequal, and more insecure.

Do you believe in justice? That our civil liberties should be protected? That all citizens should all be treated as equals? You would probably answer, “Of course!” But do you also realize that if you are an avid supporter of public values like “justice,” “liberty” and &ld

ManifestoOfThePhoenix ManifestoOfThePhoenix
31-35, M
3 Responses Mar 13, 2010

if only us liberals would get out of the way of the corporations right to BEAT THEIR WORKERS INTO SUBMISSION This economy would drasticallly rebound VERY quickly

let's take a googd look at what these anti tax crusaders have done to THEMSELVES.<br />
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the cold hard truth is that they don't oppose social programs because they don't work. Welfare doesn't cause poverty countaury to popular conventional wisdom. Here's an article DESTROYING that logic.<br />
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http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-welfarepoverty.htm<br />
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http://www.huppi.com/kangaroo/L-welfaretrap.htm<br />
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conservatives don't oppose social programs because they don't work, they oppose them because they IDEOLOGICALLY are opposed to social programs. Pragmatism be damned! THought! logic! Actually thinking about it! **** that!