Growth of the administrative state

William Voegeli’s argument that there’s “never enough” government to satisfy big-government advocates makes more sense after one reads a recent edition of Hillsdale College’s Imprimis. Political scientist John Marini discusses the inevitable budget battles associated with growth of the administrative state.

Thus the federal budget, understood as an instrument for fueling or defueling the growth of the administrative state, became the point of control over which the political parties and the political branches fell to fighting. In the 1980s, President Reagan showed that the budget process could be used to limit spending and reduce the burden of administrative regulations. But no one of either political party, including Reagan, has been able to achieve a consensus or a political realignment concerning the purposes and level of federal spending. For much of the last 50 years, an era in which divided government has become the norm, the federal budget process, with its taxing, spending, and regulatory authority, has become the focal point of the American administrative state — the place where political institutions and public bureaucracies accommodate the various interests and constituencies seeking a share of the national wealth. As a result, it became increasingly difficult to recognize the difference between governing — making political choices based on available resources — and budgeting, or simply providing funding for programs.

Over the last decade, Congress has not even been able to pass the 13 or so appropriations bills that constitute a budget. As a result, the ongoing use of Continuing Resolutions allows the bureaucracy to determine its own needs, free from detailed control by the legislative branch. In such circumstances, those supportive of the status quo — those in the bureaucracy, Congress, or the executive branch, who support the expansion of the administrative state — have become a faction on behalf of government itself. Consequently, there has been no effective national political institution that is responsive to the unorganized electorate that has no access to the administrative state — no institution that operates on behalf of the public interest as opposed to organized interests.

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