President Obama’s offer to Republicans last Friday to make it easier to consolidate and remap federal agencies is a good one and should be taken up by Congress.
The plan would call for allowing Congress to vote up or down on new consolidation proposals, avoiding all the legislative tricks and procedures that stall legislation. In this case, it’s necessary to overcome opposition from powerful lawmakers who won’t want to downgrade agencies over which they have purview.
On their own, agencies tend to grow exponentially and demand resources for things other agencies are already doing – because they think they should do it too. Combining agencies will help eliminate these little fiefdoms and curb the expansion of government.
Obama wants to start by extracting the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the Department of Commerce, putting it in the Department of the Interior, and then combining Commerce with some other business-related agencies, including the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Some people are groaning that USTR and our trade agenda will be undermined. But the Trade Rep will retain Cabinet level status and continue to report to the president as well as the head of the new agency. That is, the trade agenda will remain as important as the president wants. Obama has already full demonstrated that you can have no trade agenda even with a USTR that reports solely to the president.
Of course, this proposal is an attempt to say something is true that actually is not true: that Obama wants to shrink the government. Federal spending is now 25 percent of GDP, higher than it’s been since World War II.
Obama is baiting Republicans by daring them to oppose something they would naturally embrace. He’ll then use the rejection to portray them as Do-Nothing jerks unwilling to work with him. Or he’ll take some credit for actually achieving something, however, small.
The president is playing a political game this year that will result in little getting done for the American people. Republicans should not play along, and move on this proposal.