Big government still devouring freedom

A year ago, my book Devouring Freedom was released. It sought to address two questions. Does government growth really shrink individual freedom? And can big government ever be stopped?

At the risk of harming sales (you can get it for just $2.72 now!), the answer to both questions was yes — the first an emphatic yes, the second a much more hesitant and conditional one.

So what has changed on this front in the last year? Unfortunately, not much.

Trust in government is at a record low. According to the latest Gallup poll, only 49 percent of Americans express confidence in the government’s ability to solve international problems while just 42 percent are confident it can solve domestic ones. After the twin disasters of Obamacare and the Iraq war, both these numbers are still too high. But they represent low points in Gallup polling.

In Devouring Freedom, I cited a Gallup poll finding that 64 percent regarded big government as the greatest threat to the country’s future, compared to big business or big labor. Since then, a new poll came out showing this has spiked to 72 percent. This view was held by 92 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of independents and even 56 percent of Democrats.

Obamacare is a train wreck that will either discredit government-run health care or lead to single payer. Obamacare may yet be repealed. The Obama administration itself has repeatedly delayed provisions of the law. There is bipartisan support for full repeal of the individual mandate, the employer mandate, the medical devices tax and the Independent Payment Advisory Board more commonly known as “death panels.” The 1099 reporting requirement has already been repealed.

Support for the controversial health care law is at an all-time low even among the uninsured. That’s because market surveys indicated most people who have signed up for Obamacare already had insurance. A plan that was sold as providing universal coverage has so far mainly been a Medicaid expansion — that is, more people in a program that is bankrupting states and may not produce better health outcomes than being uninsured — and a churn between cancelled health plans and new Obamacare-compliant ones.

But that doesn’t mean things can’t get worse. Obamacare is already growing government — the Department of Health and Human Services will spend $1 trillion under the president’s budget in fiscal 2015. And its problems are being blamed on Republicans, insurance companies and the remaining private sector elements in health care. A single-payer advocate is already running for governor in Massachusetts, which has had an Obamacare-like health system since 2006.

Expect the same to happen nationally, as government-caused problems are used to justify an even bigger expansion of government.

Big government Republicans are back. Not only do you have erstwhile budget hawks like Ohio Gov. John Kasich pushing Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, you have a post-tea party Republican House throwing up its hands at a predominantly Democratic Washington falling into some bad habits of the Bush era.

Sequestration wasn’t perfect, but it was working. Instead of federal spending hitting $4 trillion as expected, it actually fell from $3.58 trillion to $3.45 trillion. The annual budget deficit decreased by 37 percent in 2013.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that Republican leaders traded away the sequestration cuts in exchange for almost nothing, then voided the largest spending cut in the bipartisan budget. The House has passed a bloated farm bill costing nearly $1 trillion, then a clean debt ceiling increase.