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Let's 'spring clean' government

| Saturday, March 22, 2014, 9:00 p.m.
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When Barack Obama ran for president, he promised to clean house: “I'm not a Democrat who believes that we can or should defend every government program just because it's there. There are some that don't work.”

Obama promised to end “waste at the Economic Development Agency and the Export-Import Bank that's become little more than a fund for corporate welfare.” Yet both programs thrive: The Ex-Im Bank just gave another $8 billion to Boeing and the EDA spent $2 million to build a wine-tasting room and “culinary amphitheater.”

Taxpayers were also forced to give $150,000 to promote a puppet festival on Long Island, $98,000 to build an outhouse in Alaska and a million dollars to “study the influence of romance through novels and film.”

Both the left and right denounce the other party's spending but expensive waste is supported by both. Neither party makes much effort to cut farm subsidies or NASA — or to end subsidies for big corporations, the people who need it least.

Welfare for businesses is even more harmful than welfare for poor people because it kills the free enterprise that creates real prosperity, says Mattie Duppler of Americans for Tax Reform. “When you've got government putting its thumb on the scale, saying this business deserves more attention, more money, more government support than another one, that's ... the centrally planned economy.”

Centrally planned economies bring stagnation and poverty.

Many people concerned about big government focus on high taxes. High taxes are bad, but we should worry more about the spending. Spending is a tax. Since government has no money of its own, the spending money must come from you.

And we should worry even more about the sheer quantity of rules. There are now 170,000 pages of federal laws and many more local rules. If you can't get a job, there's a good chance that this spider web of regulations is the reason why.

After recessions, employment used to bounce back quickly, but not this time. What employer wants to hire when doing so requires fighting incomprehensible complexity and risking punishment for violating some obscure rule? We should be afraid to build a serious business. Today's laws are so complex even the lawyers don't understand them.

When government is big, we become smaller. When we're trapped in the web of their rules, we don't innovate; we become passive. To clean house, pass the Stossel Rule: For every new regulation bureaucrats pass, they must repeal five old ones.

It would be a start.

John Stossel is host of “Stossel” on the Fox Business Network and the author of “No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed.”

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