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"...what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?” “A Republic, if you can keep it

ISTOOK: Bureaucracy doesn’t just hurt — it kills

By Ernest Istook


Government death panels weren't invented by Obamacare.

By hiding a list of 1,600 veterans waiting to see doctors in Phoenix, the Department of Veterans Affairs is accused of 40 deaths of those who died for lack of care. Keeping them off the official list concealed the backlog and made VA bureaucrats look better and qualify for bonuses.

So far, no firings, no disciplinary actions, no screaming on the evening news has resulted, although the inspector general for VA is looking into it at the insistence of Arizona lawmakers.

If VA's 300,000 federal employees can't make health care work for our veterans, how can any number make Obamacare work for everyone else? One report says federal workers are more likely to die on the job of natural causes than to be fired, with a dismissal rate of about 0.5 percent — only one-sixth of the private sector rate. Protective red tape makes it almost impossible to fire even the grossly inept, incompetent or misbehaving. Almost.

In the VA, protecting the bureaucracy can be fatal to veterans. Elsewhere, it may only be sickening.

Ask the 63,000 Oregonians who thought they had signed up for Oregon's state-level version, only to be told that the $303 million federal dollars spent on the state's website was all a big waste. The site never worked at all and those thousands have to start over. By comparison it seems minor that repairing will "only" cost taxpayers $121 million to fix what was done wrong. Not to mention the millions more to finish the site's "back end" programming that was never even started.

Oregon is opting back into the federal program because a crummy federal site that sometimes works is better than a crummy state website that never worked. Oregon's website should have been buried in a dump with all those old Atari game cartridges.

For each person they tried to sign up, Oregon health exchange officials burned through $4,756 per person and still failed.

Compare that to a mere $270 per person that Jeffrey Dorfman at Forbes estimates Uncle Sam paid for every person who signed up for Obamacare, including advertising, promotion and website costs. The federal government spent that to persuade people to accept insurance subsidies that average $5,500 of free insurance a year.

Surely there's a cheaper way to talk people into saying yes to get something for nothing. But, as President Obama explained, "We didn't make a hard sell." Good thing, or it might have cost us $1,000 a person, not just $270.

But Obamacare isn't alone. There are parallel federal programs, such as paying government workers to talk seniors into applying for food stamps.

With all this outreach to give things away, how big is this federal bureaucracy and its red tape? Clyde Wayne Crews at the Competitive Enterprise Institute reports our regulations by themselves would constitute the tenth biggest economy in the world. By imposing a $1.86 trillion annual burden on the U.S., our regulatory costs top the entire GDP of Canada ($1.82 trillion), India ($1.84 trillion) and most other countries.

The bureaucratic burden is not spread equally. If it were, each American household would stagger under $14,974 a year in red-tape costs in addition to paying taxes. Since the load doesn't fall equally, that means certain sectors — in particular the job-creators — must carry extra burdens. That's one big reason they are slow to create jobs. Depending on the law, once employers reach a threshold of 50 workers, or just 25, or just 10, they are put into a category of extra regulations.

Nobody has a full list of all our current or pending federal regulations. If they did, it would be so large they'd likely want to hide it — maybe under a circus tent. But hiding the cost of red tape is wrong just as it's wrong to hide a list of patients needing health care from the VA. One can be a death list for patients. The other is a death list for jobs.

Ernest Istook is a former Republican congressman from Oklahoma. His radio show can be heard daily from noon to 3 p.m. at Get his free email newsletter at

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Comment by Chalice on May 5, 2014 at 6:32am

The waste of public funds is criminal.


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