I've advocated a "sunset amendment" to the federal Constitution whereby all acts of Congress would automatically expire after, say, 6 or 10 years unless purposefully and individually re-authorized. Somehow though I missed that President Bush is proposing a sort of independent commission modelled after the BRAC process to evaluate federal programs and eliminate them pending Congressional approval.
The Bush administration, for one, is hoping Congress will at least create the conditions for making more tough decisions such as base closings in the future. In its latest budget, it has proposed a pair of commissions that would be assigned to evaluate government programs for effectiveness and efficiency. An eight-member, bipartisan "Sunset Commission" would review every one of the federal government's 1,200 programs to see if they should be retained, restructured or terminated. Congress would establish a timetable for the reviews, and any program recommended for elimination by the panel would automatically sunset unless Congress took action to continue it.
Sounds like an excellent idea to me. As John fund points out in that article, BRAC has worked amazingly well as a (largely) apolitical process, and this Sunset Commission could help lower the equilibrium point of government waste. Naturally, the usual statist suspects are opposed. Rolling Stone magazine mischaracterizes the proposal as the end of government regulation -- if only!
The administration portrays the commission as a well-intentioned effort to make sure that federal agencies are actually doing their job. "We just think it makes sense," says Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the Office of Management and Budget, which crafted the provision. "The goal isn't to get rid of a program -- it's to make it work better."
In practice, however, the commission would enable the Bush administration to achieve what Ronald Reagan only dreamed of: the end of government regulation as we know it. With a simple vote of five commissioners -- many of them likely to be lobbyists and executives from major corporations currently subject to federal oversight -- the president could terminate any program or agency he dislikes. No more Environmental Protection Agency. No more Food and Drug Administration. No more Securities and Exchange Commission.
Oh please, I'm sure Congress would just sit by and do nothing if the commission proposed eliminating those agencies. The Sunset Commission would derive all its power from Congressional approval, and wantonly unpopular acts would be impossible. However, mildly, locally unpopular acts, such as military base closures, would be much easier. These are things that people are in favor of generally, even though no one wants to lose their military base; by putting decisions in the hands of a less political entity, Congress can insulate itself from having to pick who loses and can then approve of what's in the best interests of the country as a whole.
Plus, despite what Rolling Stone says, the commission members would be picked by the President and Congress together, not just by the President.
Newsmax has an article explaining how the Sunset Commission would likely be used, and it isn't all that terrifying.
A Congressional Budget Office review found that in fiscal 2005, Congress appropriated more than $170 billion for programs whose spending authorizations had expired, meaning there had been no review of whether the money was being well spent.
The average federal program duplicates five others. By a recent count, there are 64 separate welfare programs and 163 job-training programs.
A Sunset Commission to combat this inefficiency is "a simple concept," said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, a longtime advocate of such an oversight committee.
"Each and every federal government agency must justify its existence – not its value when it was created 100 years ago, or 40 years ago, or even 20 years ago. They must prove that they deserve our tax dollars today."
Such a commission would introduce a sort of competition into the bureaucracy that would be good for everyone, including our public sector employees. And besides, if the Sunset Commission doesn't work out, it can always eliminate itself.
It's interesting that the mere thought of reducing the size of government induces panic among some people.
Conceivably, the Sunset Commission could dismantle every regulation enacted by Congress by a group of men appointed by the president. This is in complete violation of the separation of powers defined in the Constitution. It seems impossible that Bush could get away with such nonsense, but never underestimate how selfdestructive Congress is. It seems absurd that the White House could write this into a budget and think it could really be enforced, but they cannot be so stupid as to believe this is legal. This is an underhanded powergrab. There is no reason to believe there is anything benign about the attempt to create and budget this the Sunset Commission.
Conceivably -- except that Congress would have to approve of the eliminations, and Congress itself already has the power to eliminate any programs it wants. All this agency would do is handle some of the research and paperwork to streamline Congress' job and help reduce the political gamesmanship.
What's odd is that even venerable outlets like Mother Jones, which should have a keener understanding of the political process, oppose the Sunset Commission because they think it violates separation of powers.
If passed, these commissioners would very likely be lobbyists, who would happily strip away the Environmental Protection Agency, the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Food and Drug Administration, etc. Bye-bye worker protections. Bye-bye highway safety commission. Bye-bye— "But wait!," you cry. "Doesn't this violate the separation of powers!? Why should the executive branch be able to disintegrate agencies created by Congress? Surely the Supreme Court would knock this little measure down in a heartbeat." Ah, now we're starting to see what's at stake in the court battles. Contrary to the grand belief out there that the Democrats are opposing "people of faith," (yes, that's it, Dick Durbin, devout Catholic, is declaring a war on faith) the real problem is that nominees like Janice Brown would happily carry the administration's water over little anti-consumer, anti-worker moves like this.
The hilarious thing is that the "agencies created by Congress" are -- by this logic -- already violating the separation of powers doctrine by making regulations in the first place. These agencies derive power from Congress, and so would the proposed Sunset Commission. It's really pretty simple, and it shouldn't take a Supreme Court Justice to understand.
The Cato Institute was supporting this idea three years ago in 2002, and says that the Sunset Commission shouldn't just focus on eliminating programs, but on transitioning them into the private sector.
A final amazing note -- to me -- is how many leftist mouthpieces duplicate Osha Gray Davidson's Rolling Stone article in its entirety:
Axis of Logic
True Blue Liberal
ReclaimDemocracy, which at least includes a disclaimer.
... and many more.
I don't read many lefty sites, and maybe this is why. I've never seen an article just reposted without comment on so many sites before. Bizarre. Is this normal, or does the Sunset Commission strike close to the lefty heart?