The Corner

An Idea: Demand the Commerce Department Goes in Return for a Deal


Yesterday, Senator Inhofe (R., Okla.) stood with Freedom Action and the American Conservative Union to announce that he is putting a hold on the nomination of John Bryson, co-founder of the environmental special interest Natural Resources Defense Council, to be the next secretary of commerce. This is a good thing. As my colleague William Yeatman explains, it should be as shocking as if the president had announced that the CEO of ExxonMobil would be the next head of the EPA.

It occurs to me that the good senator and his colleagues should go further. The Commerce Department is an icon of big government, ever since the days of Herbert Hoover — just read the grandiose inscription on the Commerce Department building. That’s why I suggest in my new book Stealing You Blind that it should be one of the first things to go in my plan to get government off the backs of the American people. It has a couple of valid constitutional functions in the shape of the Census Bureau and the Patent Office, but they could become independent executive agencies without much fuss, and its international trade functions can go to the Treasury Department. Virtually everything else the department does redistributes our money in subsidy programs of little effectiveness.

In the end, the department is small fry when it comes to spending, with an annual budget of around $12 billion, but that’s what makes it perfect for sacrifice in the current debt negotiations. America rarely sees individual programs shut down, much less entire government departments, but if Congress were to demand and the president were to agree that the Commerce Department should go, then it would send a message to bureaucrats everywhere and to the American people at large that something had changed. Government would no longer be guaranteed to grow forever; it could retreat too.

Speaker Boehner should demand the Commerce Department’s shutdown as part of a deficit ceiling deal. Without a move this radical, Americans cannot know that Washington is serious that things have changed.

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