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EDITORIAL: A death panel for government

Sunset commission is the responsible way to control spending

- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 16, 2010

Ronald Reagan observed that a federal program is the nearest thing to eternal life on this Earth. With President Obama's budget forecasting nearly doubled expenditures by the year 2020, governmental red ink appears equally immortal. Next year, Congress should pilfer an idea from the Texas state legislature that would give wasteful departments the dignified burial they have long deserved.

Since 1978, the Lone Star State's government agencies have faced periodic review before the Sunset Advisory Commission, which is essentially a death panel for bureaucracy. A program unable to explain its worth to the public is terminated. So far, Texas has executed about 58 unneeded departments, leaving 150 entities to take care of the people's business. The commission, comprised primarily of lawmakers, also conducts oversight hearings and audits designed to ensure the surviving agencies operate as efficiently as possible, meaning taxpayers get the most bang for their buck.

Republican Rep. Kevin Brady, a former member of the Texas legislature, has brought the idea to Washington, but it has stalled under Speaker Nancy Pelosi's rule. That should change in the next session with the GOP enjoying a 63-seat gain in the House and a set of Tea Party-inspired fiscal hawks in the Senate. Mr. Brady believes his bill has new momentum. "I think it creates the discipline the public is craving for on spending," he told The Washington Times. "The timing has never been better."

The federal leviathan has grown so far out of control that it has expensive federal programs whose goals are to undo the damage done by other expensive government programs. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for example, has been traveling the country since January - at taxpayer expense - to promote a federally funded campaign against distracted driving. The heart of the program is an effort to badger state legislatures into making it a crime to use a cell phone behind the wheel. At the same time, Mr. LaHood's department has been pouring public cash into 48 states that have or are developing systems that let drivers call the number 511 from their cell phone to obtain the latest traffic information.

An across-the-board reduction in government spending, while effective, would mean moronic ideas like government traffic hotlines lose a bit of grant funding but stay alive. The more surgical sunset approach would prove far more effective. In the present economic doldrums, Americans have been forced to trim their own spending. Last month's elections proved that the public understands the need to apply the same discipline on Capitol Hill. The GOP leadership should put this idea at the top of next year's agenda.

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