- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

Sen. Charles Schumer, New York Democrat, may or may not have discovered the meaning of life but he thinks he's discovered the meaning of the September 11 terrorist attacks: bigger government.

Writing in The Washington Post on Tuesday, Mr. Schumer says, "The era of a shrinking federal government has come to a close." And he implies that the cutbacks of the Ronald Reagan years must end if we are to protect ourselves from future assaults. "The tectonic plates beneath us are inexorably moving us to larger federal involvement," Mr. Schumer writes.

Is this the first salvo in the Democratic Party's campaign strategy for 2002 and beyond? The U.S. government will cost more than $2 trillion this fiscal year, making it the most expensive in world history. But Mr. Schumer thinks we aren't spending enough and that government is too small. Perhaps he should be asked how big is big enough and how much is enough and how high would he raise taxes to pay for it all.

The September 11 attacks came not because government was too small but because the right agencies of government did not have the financial, political and manpower support they needed.

We don't need bigger government. We need leaner, meaner and more efficient government. Nineteen hijackers (and who knows how many members of underground terrorist cells?) entered this country because the Immigration and Naturalization Service wasn't paying attention. Finding people here illegally was not a "high priority" during the Clinton administration. That's what former INS Commissioner Doris Meisner told CBS' "60 Minutes" on Sept. 23.

According to Citizens Against Government Waste, the federal government will misspend $1.2 trillion over the next four years due to waste, fraud and abuse. How about fixing that problem before talking about bigger government?

Stephen Moore, president of Club for Growth, a conservative political action group, says more money should be spent on things that government does well, such as defense, national security and fighting terrorism, and less on social programs that government does less well, or not well at all. During the Clinton years, the very government agencies that should have been equipped to defend America's borders and interests were stripped of resources they needed in favor of social spending designed to please Democratic interest groups. While the Clinton administration was preoccupied with impeachment, interns and lying under oath, America's enemies correctly saw an opportunity to reek havoc on our land.

It is true that government enjoys more public support than it has in several decades, but it is not true, as Mr. Schumer intimates, that this means the public supports new rounds of wasteful spending.

Government should not be regarded as a deity to which "worshippers" are required to pay tribute. Republicans and Democrats have larded-up new spending bills in the aftermath of September 11, often for projects that have nothing to do with improving our security or helping victims' families. Instead, they see September 11 as an excuse to do what politicians enjoy most: spending other people's money. The so-called "Farm Security Act" is among dozens of such examples. As passed by the House, the bill would add $73 billion in new spending to the $95 billion in subsidies Congress provided in the last fiscal year. Will more farm subsidies protect us from terrorists?

In answer to my question about Mr. Schumer's contention that bigger government is good, presidential senior adviser Karl Rove told me, "There is no way that government could have mobilized the American people the way they mobilized themselves after September 11. People aren't calling on 'the department of obscure and minuscule irritants' to help them. The American spirit was what awakened on 9/11. Government can't improve on that."

Ronald Reagan might be out of fashion to Mr. Schumer, but it's hard to beat Mr. Reagan's stated goal for government in his first Inaugural address on Jan. 20, 1981: "It is not my intention to do away with government. It is rather to make it work work with us, not over us; stand by our side, not ride on our back. Government can and must provide opportunity, not smother it; foster productivity, not stifle it."

Cal Thomas is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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