Archived Opinion

Debt burden will crush main street if unsolved

op minickIn his 1961 inaugural address, John F. Kennedy famously said, “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

Today the challenge posed by Kennedy might read: “Ask not what you can do for your country — ask what your country is doing to you.”

In the 50 years since Kennedy’s presidency, our federal government has exploded in terms of costs and regulations. Here are just a few of the agencies, along with their budgets (in billions of dollars), which this last half-century has produced:

• Department of Education — $79.4 billion

• Department of Energy — $44. billion

• Department of Transportation — $79.5 billion

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• Veterans Affairs — $141.1 billion

• Medicare — $494.3 billion

• Medicaid — 347 billion

All Americans with a modicum of intelligence are aware of our skyrocketing deficit, the inability of the government to operate within a budget, and the impossibility of covering these costs with higher taxes. In the next few months we will hear debate after debate over this deficit and what to do about taxes. What we will hear less about this election season are the government regulatory agencies which are killing business prospects and adding to our financial burdens.

We all pay the costs for this jungle of regulations. Businesses big and small suffer the headaches of government forms and bureaucratic red tape, but it is the consumer who in the end foots the bill. In Asheville, for example, an admittance nurse at a local health agency who must now refer to a 300-page book of federal Medicare regulations for new patients was recently told that this book will expand to a thousand pages under the new healthcare laws. A local attorney here reports that he must pay $1,500 to an accountant to cover the cost of keeping tax records for his one employee. Every business in your own town or county must act not only as unpaid tax collector for the state of North Carolina, facing stiff penalties if they fail to send that tax on time, but must also maintain an accountant to file federal income taxes. The cost of keeping these records goes to you.

Prompted by complaints from different business organizations — the National Association of American Manufacturers, the American Chemical Council, the American Hospital Association, and others — President Obama has numerous times advocated the easing of government regulations. He recognizes, at least verbally, that these bureaucratic ordinances and decrees have a negative impact on job creation, that businesses, particularly in the fields of health, energy, finance, and construction, have become wary of ever-deeper government intrusion, that this well-founded fear has led to a freeze on capital investments and hiring.

Yet both the President and the Congress seem helpless in reducing regulatory agencies. While the creation of private sector jobs has remained stagnant these last few years, federal employment and salaries have exploded. “Czars” appointed by both Presidents Bush and Obama have on occasion become regulatory tyrants who run their specialized fiefdoms the way the Cosa Nostra once ran its neighborhood crime rings. Congress seems equally out of touch. Regulations continue to stream forth from Capitol Hill, and our Senate hasn’t produced a budget in years, allowing federal agencies more leeway and funds for more regulation.

Now another monster is coming down the pike. The 2010 healthcare law, popularly known as “Obamacare,” involves 180 agencies and bureaus, requires 16,500 IRS employees for its enforcement (a circumstance which surely supports Chief Justice Roberts’ idea that the healthcare law includes a tax), and has so far spawned 13,000 pages of regulations, with the interpretation of those regulations falling under the purvey of the Secretary of Health and Human Services (Figures taken from World Magazine, Aug. 11, 2012).

What does this mean for the rest of us? Well, if you’ve ever stood in a long line at the DMV to get a license plate, then you have the barest inkling of your future health services.

In early August 2012, the Tallahassee Democrat newspaper reported that this year the federal government is developing 4,128 new regulations which, if implemented, will impose additional fees of $515 billion on the U.S. economy. This same article included a Gallup Poll showing that of the 85 percent of small businesses that aren’t hiring now or in the near future, about half of these cite fear of what federal regulation will do to the economy as the source of their hiring freeze. The Tallahassee Democrat’s business editor, Dave Hodges, rightly lauds regulations promoting such conditions as untainted food, clean air and water, and safe travel, but issues a call for the government to repair the damage being done by today’s over-regulation.  

It is said that Democrats in Congress must spend and spend to remain in office, while Republicans must always oppose higher taxes to keep their seats. Such entrenched thinking means that our financial woes are far from any solution. But surely both parties could come together and take a chainsaw to the forest of rules and regulations now inhibiting growth and recovery in our nation.

Who knows? Regulatory reform might be the banner around which we can rally not as Democrats or Republicans, progressives or conservatives, but as Americans.

(Jeff Minick is a teacher and writer. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

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