It’s Time For Our Government To Divorce Itself From Its Bad Laws

While ordinary Americans, when they enter disastrous marriages, will divorce those bad spouses, Congress will never walk away from a bad law. In this, it differs greatly from ordinary Americans who will jettison terrible errors.

Americans, on average, lose their virginity at 17 and get married at 27. Nonetheless, despite a decade in the dating pool, experiencing everything from one-night stands to years of living with someone, when people finally take the plunge, half of all US marriages end in divorce. There are lots of things that one might take from that observation, but the thing that is most compelling is that despite their best efforts, people are not perfect.

After spending the first 10 years of their adult lives trying to get it right for what is arguably the most important decision of their lives, half the population still gets it wrong and asks for a “do-over.” Let me repeat that: Despite all efforts to make a good decision, half the time, we still get it wrong—and that’s with everyone involved seeking a common goal!

So, the question is: If American adults, with everyone involved seeking to do what’s best, get it wrong half the time, how does our government, with its myriad players promoting conflicting and mutually exclusive positions, get things right almost all the time? It doesn’t, of course. Instead, the government fails at almost everything it tries.

Somehow, though, no one in government ever steps back and reevaluates. This makes what we’re watching with the debate around the reauthorization of Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which expires at the end of the year, so compelling. Enacted in 2008, Section 702 allows the government to collect—without a warrant—emails, text messages, and phone calls by foreigners overseas, even when they’re talking to Americans.

Image: AI by Vince Coyner.

Many in the GOP suggest it should not be reauthorized or should be neutered. The reason is that the Justice Department has used it as a fig leaf. Hiding behind it, they can spy on Americans. The GOP’s right, but that’s not the point.

Whatever the outcome, this is one of the few times in history that Congress—or anyone else for that matter—gets an opportunity to evaluate the efficacy of a piece of legislation and adjust accordingly. That’s because most laws go on the books and never come off…regardless of how successful they actually are or, more likely, aren’t.

Take ethanol mandates, the poster child for zombie government programs that never die regardless of the damage they do. Since the Carter administration, the government has been diverting tax dollars to put ethanol into your gas tank. Initially, it was intended to be a tool to help America become energy independent in the face of OPEC embargos. However, it morphed into a tool to help increase gas mileage and, later, it became a critical element in fighting “climate change.” Now it doesn’t even do any of those dubious but theoretically positive things. It’s simply become another failed government wealth transfer program.

Ethanol is an industry that enjoys no natural market. The only reason the ethanol market exists is because of government mandates. And who are the beneficiaries of this corporate welfare funded out of your pocket? You? Of course not.

No, it’s mainly members of the farm/finance/producers cabal in the form of the Renewable Fuels Association. This ethanol boondoggle translated into a $41 billion industry in 2021 and is expected to grow to $124 billion by 2030, money that comes out of your pocket and could be spent elsewhere if it were not, literally, being set on fire.

The worst part of the entire ethanol fiasco is the fact that not only does it not achieve any of its stated—and oft-changing—objectives but that it actually causes a wide array of unintended consequences, none of which are good. Number one is the fact that it drives up the cost of one of the most important foodstuffs in the world, corn, the price for which has more than doubled over the last 20 years. The unnecessary expense of ethanol also drives up the price of virtually every other thing in the economy, from food to transportation to plastics.

Then there’s the fact that ethanol damages engines and that the patchwork of ethanol standards across the country causes unnecessary price spikes and shortages. And if all of that weren’t enough, ethanol drives deforestation around the world, and it starves third-world populations. Most ironically, it harms the environment, too!

But of course, many other programs simply fail, yet never go away. At the top of the list are the many programs generated to fight the War on Poverty. These various programs did nothing to solve the actual problem of poverty but did generate more than $30 trillion of government spending over a half-century. They also empowered an army of government bureaucrats while redistributing wealth to countless dysfunctional or fraudulent NGOs.

Then there’s the plethora of other “green energy” programs besides ethanol that fail year in and year out. Somehow, though, the Department of Energy continues to fund them.

There’s Jimmy Carter’s Department of Education, which has been an abysmal failure. Despite spending tens of billions of dollars annually, American student test scores have barely budged since the department was created in 1980. Indeed, they’ve been stagnant on the world stage for decades, all while the DOE focuses on resource guides for LGBTQI+ students.

And we can’t forget the Border Patrol, which ostensibly exists to protect the nation’s borders but today functions more as a collection of crossing guards for the millions of illegals who walk into the country every year.

If there seems to be a theme here, there is. The more the government tries to do, the more it fails—and not only fails but usually makes matters worse. And here’s what makes the Section 702 debate so intriguing: In this instance, Congress actually has to do its job by evaluating how effectively the Executive Branch is spending the money it allocates, uses the power it gives them and, at the end of the day, achieves the goals it lays out.

A MAGA-led Congress in 2025 should apply 702’s lessons across the federal government. Congress should propose a constitutional amendment that states that all federal laws have an implicit sunset provision of 10 years unless the law initially passes each branch by at least 60%, in which case the sunset provision would be extended to 20 or 25 years.

The amendment should also stipulate that no federal regulations have the weight of law—although the Supreme Court may make this issue moot depending upon whether it reverses the infamous Chevron decision. That case effectively—and unconstitutionally—gave the federal bureaucracy legislative powers.

The effect of this Amendment would be to greatly diminish the number of zombie-like federal laws that never die, regardless of their cost, efficacy, or unintended consequences. Each sub-60 % law would have to be re-authorized each decade.

The most obvious impact of this change would be that politicians and bureaucrats would no longer be able to spin yarns about milk and honey without any accountability. (Which is why this idea will likely never see the light of day…) At the time of reconsideration, each sub-60 % bill would have a decade’s worth of hard data to analyze, making it far more difficult to hoodwink the public with rosy scenarios that have no basis in reality.

The beauty of this proposal is that it would force legislators and regulators to defend a law’s actual results rather than opine on its promised virtues. Given that most government programs cost more than projected, rarely work as promised, and often have significant negative unintended consequences, a decade should be a long enough time to inflict any law or regulation on the country and her citizens.

Follow Vince on Twitter at ImperfectUSA, or you can visit his new website Gratitude for America.

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