- The Washington Times - Monday, July 24, 2006

In 1980, when presidential candidate Ronald Reagan pledged to eliminate the Department of Education, federal budget outlays for education were less than $15 billion. This year, the department’s budget will be $84 billion. In fact, by the end of September, the Bush administration will have spent 100 percent more on Education programs during its first five fiscal years ($324 billion) than the Clinton administration spent during its last five ($162 billion).

As President Reagan once observed: “No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. Government programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth!” This week, the House will consider two “sunset” bills — the aim of which is to change the immortal status of at least some government programs. Both emerged last week from the Government Reform Committee largely along party-line votes.

The Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act, which is sponsored by Republican Rep. Kevin Brady of Texas, would establish a 12-member bipartisan commission to review all federal agencies at least once every 12 years in order to determine their efficiency and public need. Unless Congress reauthorized the agency, it would automatically be abolished within a year of the commission’s report.

Critics argue that opponents of an agency could eliminate it merely by blocking its reauthorization. They also argue that a president and a minority of either body of Congress could eliminate an agency by mustering just over one-third of the House or Senate to sustain a presidential veto of legislation reauthorizing the agency. However, before the Department of Education or any other federal agency were to suffer such a fate, a political debate would take place between its defenders and its opponents. A dissatisfied public could exact electoral recriminations against the victors.

The Government Efficiency Act, which is sponsored by Republican Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, would provide for the establishment of a bipartisan seven-member sunset commission whose proposals would receive fast-track consideration in Congress “to reorganize, consolidate, abolish, expand or transfer federal programs and agencies reviewed by the commission.” In addition to discretionary programs funded by the annual appropriations process, the Tiahrt bill authorizes the commission to consider changes in any federal program, including entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

Critics worry that a Republican president and a Republican Congress could eliminate a program or an agency without the benefit of a single Democratic vote. True. But in 1993, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress imposed a massive tax increase and draconian budget cuts in defense without a single Republican vote — and electoral retribution was exacted the next year.

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