Jul 02, 2022
From AM to PM, the fickle force of government is with you
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WASHINGTON (AP) — When you groggily roll out of bed and make breakfast, the government edges up to your kitchen table, too. Unlike you, it’s perky.
It’s an unseen force in your morning. The government makes sure you can see the nutrients in your cereal. It fusses over your toast, insisting that the flour it comes from has no more than 75 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 50 grams.
The government also tends to your coffee, mandating that no more than 10% of your beans be moldy. Its satellites inform the weather forecast on your phone for the day ahead. The government weighs in on the water consumption in your bathroom and controls the fluoride in your toothpaste.
That’s all before you leave home. The government is going to be hanging with you on and off, mostly on, until you turn off the lamp last thing at night — no new incandescent bulbs, please, under a new rule.
The world of federal regulation seems both boundless and microscopic. It touches what you touch. It lends a helping hand at every turn or sticks its clumsy fingers in everything, depending on your viewpoint.
But a Supreme Court ruling this past week, limiting federal authority to control carbon emissions from power plants, was just the latest blow to what critics call the regulatory state and potentially a major blow to the fight against global warming.
In its farthest reach, regulation has become the go-to way for presidents to make policy when they can’t get Congress to pass a law, as on climate change. Barack Obama and Donald Trump did it for varied policies; Joe Biden does it. The court’s conservative majority said not so fast to Biden.
The decision imperils Biden’s goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by half by the end of the decade even as the damage from global warming mounts. Beyond that, it may hinder regulation across a range of public policy, in education, transportation, LGBTQ rights and more.
Congress, the court said, must speak with specificity when it wants to give an agency authority to regulate on an issue of national import.
Browse the Code of Federal Regulations and you will see just how specific rule-making can be. The voluminous code’s favorite words are “shall” and “must.”
Take sea otters, for example. If you’ve ever wondered how to measure a sea otter, the code has the answer.
The pool of water for sea otters in captivity, it stipulates, “shall be at least three times the average adult length of the sea otter contained therein (measured in a horizontal line from the tip of its nose to the tip of its tail) and the pool shall be not less than .91 meters (3.0 feet) deep.”
Even as they’ve expanded government with landmark laws and the explosion of regulations that arise from them, U.S. presidents have tried since the start to simplify government. As vice president, Al Gore took a run at “reinventing” it. Such efforts generally haven’t gone well.
Thomas Jefferson sought freedom from bureaucracy as well as the achievement of American liberty when he wrote of the British king, “He has erected a multitude of new offices, and sent hither swarms of officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.”
What followed were several centuries of new offices and swarm upon swarm of bureaucrats come hither.
Associated Press writer Saul Pett took stock of the government in 1981 when President Ronald Reagan was trying to rein it in. Pett won a Pulitzer Prize for getting his hands around the behemoth. He described the government as:
“A big, bumbling, generous, naive, inquisitive, acquisitive, intrusive, meddlesome giant with a heart of gold and holes in his pockets, an incredible hulk, a ‘10-ton marshmallow’ lumbering along an uncertain road of good intentions somewhere between capitalism and socialism, an implausible giant who fights wars, sends men to the moon, explores the ends of the universe, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, helps the helpless, a thumping complex of guilt trying mightily to make up for past sins to the satisfaction of nobody, a split personality who most of his life thought God helps those who help themselves and only recently concluded God needed help, a malleable, vulnerable colossus pulled every which way by everybody who wants a piece of him, which is everybody.”
At the time, the U.S. government owned 413,042 buildings, excluding military facilities abroad, and employed 2.8 million civilians and 2.1 million military personnel. The expansion of federal programs especially swelled ranks in state and local government.
In 2021, a year of pandemic-dampened employment, the civilian federal civil service was about the same size as in 1981 while 600,000 or so fewer were in uniform.
For all of that, citizen encounters with the federal government often play out in the background, unacknowledged. The days are long gone when anyone could stroll at will through the front doors of Washington’s grand government buildings and do business.
It shapes their lives, nonetheless. That smartphone GPS came from the government. So did the internet.
People stroll on sidewalks built to requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Text messages and apps run off nearby cellphone towers that the Federal Communications Commission registers and licenses.
But it’s more visible when the government takes instead of gives. Motorists steer 18.4 cents to Washington for each gallon of gas they buy and 24.4 cents for each gallon of diesel. Most states grab an even bigger take per gallon.
At work, federal rules stand ready to step in if you are a victim of unlawful discrimination or hazardous working conditions. After work, food at the dinner table made it there through a regimen of meat, factory and farm inspection and truth-in-labelling rules.
That pizza sauce? Relax and enjoy. It can only have 30 fly eggs in each cup, by federal mandate. Except when a maggot is present; then only 15 fly eggs are permitted.
When you tuck your children in, the feds are there for the nighty-night, too.
If the young ones are old enough to get around and in trouble — nine months — they go off to sleep in the only bedtime garments that can be sold for them — body-hugging nightwear or flame-retardant pajamas.
Says a government order: That must and shall be so.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz, Kevin Freking and Seth Borenstein contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.
News Source: wtop.com
World News | UK scraps tax cut for the elites that roiled markets
By Jill Lawless | Associated Press
BIRMINGHAM, England — The U.K. government on Monday dropped plans to cut income tax for top earners, part of a package of unfunded cuts unveiled only days ago that sparked turmoil on financial markets and sent the pound to record lows.
In a dramatic about-face, Treasury chief Kwasi Kwarteng abandoned plans to scrap the top 45% rate of income tax paid on earnings above 150,000 pounds ($167,000) a year, a policy that had drawn near-universal opposition. The pound rose after the government U-turn, trading at $1.13 — just over the value it held before the government’s calamitous budget announcement on Sept. 23.
But Kwarteng said the government would push ahead with the rest of its tax-cutting stimulus package. Kwarteng and Prime Minister Liz Truss have spent the last 10 days defending the plan in the face of market mayhem and increasing alarm among the governing Conservative Party.
In a speech to the party’s annual conference, Kwarteng acknowledged the plan had “caused a little turbulence.”
“I get it. We are listening and have listened, and now I want to focus on delivering the major parts of our growth package,” he said, trying to draw a line under 10 days of turmoil.
“We need to move forward. No more distractions. We have a plan and we need to get on and deliver it.”
The turnaround came after a growing number of Conservative lawmakers, including former ministers with broad influence, turned on the government’s tax plans.
“I can’t support the 45p tax removal when nurses are struggling to pay their bills,” Tory lawmaker Maria Caulfield said.
The backlash has cast a shadow over the Conservative conference in the central England city of Birmingham, where many delegates express fears that the party, in power since 2010, is headed for defeat in the next election. It’s not due until 2024, but the opposition Labour Party has taken a substantial lead in opinion polls.
Truss defended the economic plan on Sunday but said she could have “done a better job laying the ground” for the announcements.
She also said the decision to abolish the top tax rate had been taken by Kwarteng alone. On Monday, Truss’ spokesman said the prime minister still had confidence in her embattled Treasury chief.
Truss took office less than a month ago, promising to radically reshape Britain’s economy to end years of sluggish growth. But the government’s announcement of a stimulus package that includes 45 billion pounds ($50 billion) in tax cuts, to be paid for by government borrowing, sent the pound tumbling to a record low against the dollar.
The Bank of England was forced to intervene to prop up the bond market, and fears that the bank will soon hike interest rates caused mortgage lenders to withdraw their cheapest deals, causing turmoil for homebuyers.
The package proved unpopular, even among Conservatives. Reducing taxes for top earners and scrapping a cap on bankers’ bonuses while millions face a cost-of-living crisis driven by soaring energy bills was widely seen as politically toxic.
Truss and Kwarteng insist that their plan will deliver a growing economy and eventually bring in more tax revenue, offsetting the cost of borrowing to fund the current cuts. But they also have signaled that public spending will need to be slashed to keep government debt under control.
Monday’s change of direction lifts some of the political pressure on the government from inside the Conservative Party, but it still faces skepticism from markets and economists and mounting public opposition to the worsening cost-of-living squeeze.
Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies think tank, said that unless Kwarteng “also U-turns on some of his other, much larger tax announcements, he will have no option but to consider cuts to public spending: to social security, investment projects or public services.”
Kwarteng has promised to set out a medium-term fiscal plan on Nov. 23, alongside an economic forecast from the independent Office for Budget Responsibility.
Axing the top-earners tax rate would have cost about 2 billion pounds, a small share of the government’s overall tax-cutting plan. Kwarteng said Monday that the government was sticking to its other tax policies, including a cut next year in the basic rate of income tax and a reversal of a corporation tax hike planned by the previous government.
“Our growth plan set out 10 days ago will ensure we focus relentlessly on economic growth,” Kwarteng said. “Because we must face up to the fact that for too long, our economy has not grown enough.
“The path ahead of us was one of slow, managed decline. But I refuse to accept that it is somehow Britain’s destiny to fall back into middle league status or that the tax burden reaching a 70-year high is somehow inevitable. It isn’t and it shouldn’t be.”
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“None of this growth plan will work unless we have stability. Let’s hope this is the beginning of it,” he told broadcaster LBC.
Opposition parties said the government should scrap its whole economic plan.
“This is an economic crisis made in Downing Street, paid for by working people,” Labour economy spokeswoman Rachel Reeves said. “The Tories have damaged the U.K.’s reputation on the global stage and left us all worse off.”