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Deroy Murdock

The Bush administration’s statism is becoming routine. Many of its big-government solutions are designed to crush terrorists, and thus are largely appropriate. But elsewhere, Team Bush breezily subverts the free-market principles the president supposedly embraces. Consider the subsidies, surveillance and centralization the administration has proposed in recent weeks.

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President Bush himself unveiled a plan to increase minority home ownership. By 2010, Bush hopes to help 5.5 million blacks and Hispanics purchase houses. That’s admirable given home ownership’s contribution to community and financial stability.

Alas, Bush pursues worthy goals through objectionable tactics. He promoted a brand-new entitlement, the “American Dream Down Payment Fund,” in his June 15 national radio address. It would provide $200 million annually to as many as 40,000 families who earn up to 80 percent of local median income. These grants of as much as $5,000 need not be repaid.

This free money unfortunately requires neither the patience nor sacrifice needed to accumulate a down payment. “You have no stake in the house or the neighborhood in which you live,” explains Heritage Foundation senior fellow Ron Utt. “You simply can pick up and leave at no cost, as compared to a normal homeowner who has a lot of his own equity locked in the house and the neighborhood.”

If Washington must intervene in such things, Bush should champion what Utt nicknames “a housing IRA:” an account in which potential homeowners could enjoy tax-free deposits, interest payments, and housing-related withdrawals. Such accounts would encourage thrift, boost savings, and avoid redistributing income among Americans. Why should apartment dwellers subsidize home buyers, anyway?

Bush’s housing initiative includes a far more spendthrift hike in federal mortgage lending. Flying Air Force One on a June 17 presidential visit to Atlanta, Fannie Mae chairman Franklin Raines told Bloomberg News that, through 2009, his agency would target $280 billion in new loans to minority borrowers, especially those with little credit. Fannie Mae’s books already carry $1.63 trillion in mortgage debt.

Bush also wants $35 million to educate low-income consumers on the details of home buying. Realtors already do this.

In another collectivist triumph, the Internal Revenue Service announced June 19 that it will resume random audits of tax returns. Such inspections ended in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan. The IRS hopes to examine 50,000 returns from tax year 2001 and perhaps more later. While the paperwork of such luminaries as Tyco’s L. Dennis Kozlowski and New York Stock Exchange board member Martha Stewart may merit strict scrutiny, the IRS no more should audit taxpayers at random than frisk every tenth pedestrian on Hollywood Boulevard to locate shoplifted merchandise.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on July 8 that the Bush administration is considering quarantining Americans who become exposed to smallpox.

In a draft plan circulating among top officials at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, a variety of scenarios — such as a plane full of passengers exposed to someone on board with smallpox — involve holding people against their will under medical supervision. People could be detained for a day or two (long enough to vaccinate them), seven days (to judge the vaccinations’ effectiveness) or a full 17 days, after which people no longer would be contagious.

“Once planning is complete for this scenario,” the AP reports, “the CDC group plans to tackle more complicated situations, such as a smallpox patient in a sports stadium or an infected person wandering through an airport.”

Delightful. Rather than such Big Brother solutions, why not try a dose of Marcus Welby, M.D.? Allowing Americans to get smallpox vaccinations on an optional basis largely would obviate the need for forcing people into quarantine. But here, too, the Bush administration leans away from freedom and toward state control.

The federal Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices unanimously decided to deny Americans voluntary access to smallpox vaccines. The 15-member panel’s five Bush-administration appointees supported a June 20 recommendation to immunize only about 20,000 medical and emergency personnel nationwide. They supposedly would contain a smallpox outbreak by isolating the sick and vaccinating those they may have infected. Good luck. Can you identify the last 25 people you greeted? Human smallpox bombs dispatched by al Qaeda would be even less helpful.

CDC officials say they can ship anti-smallpox injections from storage to local hospitals within 48 hours. Picture a Times Square smallpox attack. Are New Yorkers expected to sit still for two days? If not, riding planes, trains and automobiles could spread the virus from New Jersey to New Delhi in a jiffy.

A June 21 CDC report claims that the risk of “a deliberate [smallpox] release by terrorists is considered low.” Nonetheless, Uncle Sam has purchased 250 million vaccine doses for late 2002 delivery. America would be safer with these inoculations stored in the blood streams of willing citizens, rather than in some far-away federal warehouse.

Recent polls show that 60 percent of Americans want the option to shield themselves from smallpox. If you are among them, call Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson at 202-690-7000. Urge him to reject this prescribed overdose of paternalism and leave Americans free to choose anti-smallpox immunization.

In this month of our nation’s 226th birthday, Americans should reflect on our gargantuan state — which alleged conservatives in the Bush administration expand daily — and recall the Founding Fathers as they peer from above with furrowed brows.



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