That familiar catch phrase of bravado that rolls off tongues of politicians like fine-grade oil is again in the air as 2010 congressional elections loom and President Obama's economic rescue plans grow in girth.
"I'm against big government," crows the candidate. Or, a variation: "I'm for smaller government."
It's just a bit dishonest. The aginners really only despise "big government" programs of the other guys.
Maybe a few pitiable smaller-government champions roam halls of government imploring officials to downsize. But most members in the U.S. House and U.S. Senate prefer more spending and more bureaucrats to accommodate interests that make generous campaign donations at election time or have offices and employees (read, voters) in their home states.
Congress' own operation is a tribute to big government.
The House has 20 standing committees, three special committees and 104 subcommittees. The Senate has 16 standing committees, six special committees and 73 subcommittees. More than 200 committees and subcommittees need impressive and elaborately furnished rooms to meet, of course.
Committees and subcommittees also need lawyers, researchers, secretarial assistants. This doesn't even count staffs in main congressional offices where speeches are written, constituent letters answered, media press releases prepared, lobbyists received, visiting homefolks welcomed.
In addition to providing ample forums for each member to appear on TV and be quoted in newspapers, this maze is where legislation and amendments create more government and more spending. It's also a conveniently baffling system that makes pinpointing who voted for or against spending and at what stage of a bill's evolution almost impossible.
Congressmen from the farm states may oppose urban welfare programs, but they want subsidies for agriculture. Defense-state congressmen want more weapons and troops, but maybe not more funding and personnel for tourism promotion in the Commerce Department. More for education. For health. For the environment. For energy. For space flight. For research.
Who's egging them on? Why, voters who ordinarily say they hate big government but have their own special government program of interest.
When separate parts are put together—presto!—bigger government.
The highly regarded, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, whose audit of lobbying is an eye-opener (www.opensecrets.org/lobbyists), listed 15,223 active Washington lobbyists in 2008, spending a total of $3.27 billion while pushing the wants of more than 200 business, charitable and social interests on members of Congress and the president.
No surprise. Virtually all of them asked for more, not less, of government.