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Toilet Socialism
Can we cut the red-tape crap already?


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Deroy Murdock

What’s an asthmatic Republican to do?

In yet another GOP contribution to limited government, an advisory committee at the Food and Drug Administration has recommended a ban on Primatene Mist, an over-the-counter asthma spray. This menace to society is propelled by chlorofluorocarbons. CFCs are considered injurious to the ozone layer.

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The ozone-friendly FDA suggests that people use CFC-free prescription asthma nebulizers. That’s swell, unless you lack health insurance, pharmaceutical coverage, or the time to see a doctor–or if you need asthma relief right now.

Primatene is perfect for emergencies. I once suffered an asthma attack while visiting friends in lovely but secluded Bucks County, Pennsylvania. That weekend, I happened to forget my prescription inhaler. Rather than visit a pricey hospital emergency room or locate and awaken a doctor to write a prescription at 11:00 P.M., I had my friends drive me to a drug store where I bought some Primatene for about $12. Yes, I did inhale. And I felt much better.

Now, the Bush administration wants to deny asthmatics that freedom, choice, and comfort. If Primatene’s three million customers routinely emptied their atomizers into the air, this restriction might be ecologically sound. However, as Heritage Foundation senior policy analyst Ben Lieberman says: “The amounts of CFCs used in these inhalers is so small, it makes sense to exempt them for several more years until comparable alternatives are available.”

“To put people at risk from asthma, in order to address these inconsequential or even imaginary risks to planetary ozone, takes the precautionary principle to unconscionably absurd new levels,” says Paul Driessen, my Atlas Foundation colleague and a Congress of Racial Equality senior policy advisor. “This is a good issue for anyone who favors equal access to affordable health care. This asinine rule would hit poor people hardest, resulting in more frequent, serious, and fatal attacks for them than for upper-crust people, like those who walk the halls of the FDA.”

Alas, this proposed regulation is not alone.

While Republicans deserve credit for cutting taxes, on spending they have earned brickbats. The federal budget just goes up, up, and away, like a not-so-beautiful balloon. Unfortunately, so does regulation.

“This growth in spending naturally means a growth in the regulatory state,” says Clyde Wayne Crews, a Competitive Enterprise Institute vice president for policy. He notes that the regulation-rich Federal Register has expanded under President Bush from 64,438 pages in 2001 to 73,870 pages in 2005, a 14.6 percent increase. A new Small Business Administration study finds that federal regulations each year steer America’s economy into a $1 trillion headwind.

How, then, could the U.S. economy advance 3.5 percent last year while unemployment now stands at just 4.7 percent?

“Despite those rosy figures,” Crews says, “industries long saddled with regulations are feeling the pinch; think airlines and the auto industry and pension regulations. The $1 trillion in regulatory costs reflects their (and consumers’) pain, as well as the massive expenses of paperwork, particularly tax compliance. These numbers show that the entrepreneurial sector can create wealth in spite of regulation. That cannot happen forever, not in a country with regulatory costs now well above one third the level of government spending.”

And the new rules keep on coming.

The Federal Communications Commission now wants to impose on cable TV companies something Washington never would force upon restaurants. Consider: I hate pickles. Everyone at my local diner knows to keep them far from anything I order. However, it never occurred to me to ask them to deduct pickles from my bill. Why, then, should the FCC order Time-Warner to subtract the cost of Lifetime Television from my cable-TV package just because I don’t watch it?

This is called “a la carte pricing.” As customers gravitate toward bigger channels, this idea could jeopardize smaller channels now added into today’s packages. Cable companies should be free, but not compelled, to offer such options. The FCC has outlived its role as sheriff of the three-network town that pre-dated TiVo. Now that people can choose from among broadcast, cable, DVDs, Internet streaming video, satellites, or silence, Uncle Sam should hand back the remote control and ride into the sunset.

On deregulation, the GOP can redeem itself somewhat by revisiting an issue it dropped in 2001. Mandated under the 1992 Energy Policy Act signed by the elder President Bush, 1.6-gallon low-flow toilets have annoyed Americans who prefer the one-flush power of 3.5-gallon traditional toilets. Despite their superior performance, the old toilets are illegal. Amazingly, America now boasts a black market in classic commodes.

Despite ample histrionics during the so-called “Republican Revolution,” Rep. Joe Knollenberg’s (R., Mich.) bill to repeal the low-flow law languished in committee. This election year, roll-call votes to repeal this regulation should tell Americans whether their senators and representatives favor toilet freedom or toilet socialism.

Here’s an idea: Uncle Sam should retreat from asthmatics’ lungs, viewers’ cable boxes, and everyone’s toilets. That should give public servants in Washington more time to track and kill terrorists.

New York commentator Deroy Murdock is a columnist with the Scripps Howard News Service and a senior fellow with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Arlington, Va.



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