The Governing Class and Us
In a speech yesterday in Elyria, Ohio -- a small town just outside Cleveland sitting at the forks of the Black River -- President Barack Obama delivered a politically charged speech in which he hearkened back to the country's roots, saying that his opponents "don't seem to remember how America was built." In his view, taxpayers want their money spent in ways that will help further "the larger project we call America." In other words, more spending and bigger government paid for with higher taxes.
In a city quite unlike Elyria, thousands of miles west, sprawling forth from the desert just east of Death Valley, officials from this federal government provided the latest example of what happens when the president's philosophy succeeds -- when layer upon layer of government grows so big that it begins to serve the interests of a ruling class, rather than the people from whom it derives its power. Two years ago in Las Vegas, the General Services Administration (GSA) -- a little-known federal agency that helps manage other federal agencies -- blew through $820,000 in taxpayer funds for a lavish, booze-fueled conference for 300 employees, complete with magic shows, margaritas, and a self-produced rap video making fun of the spending. (It's worth mentioning that in 2009, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) asked White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel for help in encouraging government meetings to be held in Nevada.)
That's just the giant tip of the iceberg for this wasteful behemoth, as reports have emerged of other taxpayer-financed "business trips," including junkets to Hawaii, South Pacific islands, California's Napa Valley and Palm Springs. A hotline has been set up for employee tips on wrongdoing, and this week the House is conducting hearings on the GSA's gross abuse of taxpayer funds.
Sadly, government waste, fraud and abuse isn't limited to just one agency. Look no further than the Department of Energy (DOE) whose inspector general said yesterday that he's overseeing 250 to 300 open criminal investigations into the "entire spectrum of DOE activities," including 100 reviews involving more than $35 billion in stimulus dollars, according to Politico. In addition, it was reported that the investigators are looking into the "use of thousands of outside contractors, federal money being diverted for personal use, false data in grant and loan applications, conflicts of interest and incomplete and inferior work from DOE weatherization grant winners." To date, those investigations have led to eight criminal prosecutions and the recovery of $2.3 million.
How commonplace is this waste? Given the sheer size and scope of the government -- which is set to spend $6.3 trillion this year -- it's impossible to say. But just as pernicious as the countless billions that have been squandered is the cancerous attitude that has taken hold in Washington and that is metastasizing across the land. It's one of thoughtless entitlement in which individuals who live off the bureaucratic beast reflexively take and spend more all while doing less, giving no consideration to those who fuel their appetites.
Of course, that mindset is not exclusive to the federal level, and examples abound of government employees taking from the public coffers. Just this week in our nation's capital, 90 city employees were suspended for receiving unemployment benefits while still holding city jobs, and 40 former city workers cashed unemployment checks that they weren't entitled to. All told, the city paid out some $800,000 in illegitimate benefits. But it's not just about outright theft. It's also about out-of-whack expectations that one is entitled to receive without doing. In Michigan, for example, a public school teacher is advising her students not to become teachers because under a new state law, she won't be able to retire at age 47 as she hoped.
Contrary to what those on the left might believe, this swollen government is not what was intended.
Flowing from the Declaration of Independence and embodied in the Constitution, the federal government was designed on the principle that the ultimate authority of a legitimate government depends on the consent of a free people. As Former Attorney General Edwin Meese III writes in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution, "Nature does not single out who is to govern and who is to be governed; there is no divine right of kings. Nor are rights a matter of legal privilege or the benevolence of some ruling class." Yet in this government, a privileged few are acting outside those bounds with the expectation that they have the right to do as they please, unfettered by any obligation to the people.
Under the Obama Administration, the situation has gotten worse. The president turns to bigger government and higher taxes as a solution to every problem. On health care, unemployment, education and energy, Obama has reflexively pursued a policy of more is more -- more spending paid for with more taxes. This week served up another prime example when the president called for increased regulations and $52 million in spending to combat high gas prices -- even though he admitted that the measures wouldn't have any immediate impact on the price at the pump.
As the people lose control over this unrestrained government, those with the most cash are the ones with a voice. In an interview last week with The New York Times, former Democratic congressman Patrick Kennedy revealed that access to the Obama White House is a "quid pro quo" based on how much money one contributes to the president's campaign. That news, though, likely is not a shock to an American people who have come to expect the worst, not the best, from Washington. However, that is not how America was built, it's not the government we must have, nor is it the one that the Founders envisioned.