Washington has wrongly made taxpayers foot the bill for thousands of egregious projects - treadmills for shrimp, Jell-O-wrestling in Antarctica, a "Bridge to Nowhere" - but funding lobbyists to advocate for higher taxes, costly regulations and more egregious projects on the taxpayer's dime is out-of-control government spending at its worst.
In his 2013 budget proposal, President Obama erased three critical anti-lobbying provisions that protect taxpayers from funding their own tax increases. Without this language, the federal government can more easily use our tax dollars to pay local governments and third-party groups to hire lobbyists, advocate publicly for a bill that will increase taxes, impose more government oversight and stifle individual freedoms, using such tools as television and radio advertising, pamphlets, and presentations.
Government agencies have already found loopholes in existing law that allow for taxpayer-funded lobbyists, but removing the provisions as Mr. Obama's 2013 budget does only gives an endorsement of such manipulative tactics.
Through the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) received a combined $1.1 billion to create and lobby for strategies that would limit Americans' consumption of foods deemed unhealthy by policymakers. The fund has been used to lobby for soda taxes, fast food moratoria and tobacco excise increases.
As part of the program, the CDC allocated $1 million to Delaware to educate local decision-makers about the benefits of increasing the price, otherwise known as raising taxes, on tobacco products.
North Carolina was also awarded $7.5 million from the fund to expand "efforts in tobacco-free living, active living and healthy eating, and quality clinical and other preventive services," according to the CDC. Though the grant's stated purpose contains only vague instructions on how to use our taxpayer dollars, Pitt County, N.C., spent its share of the grant to change the relative prices of healthy versus unhealthy items in convenience stores.
The stimulus package sent even more money to lobbying activities. Like the Prevention and Public Health Fund, the $650 million Communities Putting Prevention to Work program was dedicated to changing the consumption habits of Americans. As part of the federal project, the DeKalb County Board of Health in Georgia received $3.2 million to support "pricing strategies" (i.e., tax increases) on tobacco products.
Wasteful programs like these represent an effort by the federal government to expand its authoritative reach on the taxpayer's dollar. Whether advocating for higher prices on certain foods or more taxes on tobacco products, taxpayer-funded lobbying works to manipulate how we live our everyday lives with little or no transparency.
Especially as millions of Americans struggle to find work and our national debt soars past $15 trillion, we cannot afford to have the government work against us and lobby for more job-killing tax increases and government regulations. The Obama administration and Congress must realign its priorities and focus on pro-growth, pro-jobs policies that put people back to work rather than add fuel to an ever-growing Nanny State.
When the Founding Fathers constructed our Constitution, did they intend for Washington to dictate the type of products we buy? No, they sought the opposite. Aiming to escape an oppressive, overreaching government, our Founding Fathers worked to create a federal system that embraced individual liberty and personal responsibility.
Decision-makers in Washington must work toward closing the loopholes on taxpayer-funded lobbying, rather than endorsing the practice. It's time to return to our constitutional principles, work toward defunding programs that allow the federal government to be the puppet-master of Americans' personal decision-making processes, and focus our taxpayer dollars on projects that create jobs, spark economic growth and limit the size and scope of government.
Stephen DeMaura is president of Americans for Job Security.
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