NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 25, 2006

This week, the House considers two "sunset" bills -- the aim of which is to change the immortal status of at least some government programs, says the Washington Times.

The Abolishment of Obsolete Agencies and Federal Sunset Act would establish a 12-member bipartisan commission to review all federal agencies at least once every 12 years in order to determine their efficiency and public need.  Unless Congress reauthorized the agency, it would automatically be abolished within a year of the commission's report.

  • Critics argue that opponents of an agency could eliminate it merely by blocking its reauthorization.
  • They also argue that a president and a minority of either body of Congress could eliminate an agency by mustering just over one-third of the House or Senate to sustain a presidential veto of legislation reauthorizing the agency.
  • However, before any federal agencies were to suffer such a fate, a political debate would take place between its defenders and its opponents; a dissatisfied public could exact electoral recriminations against the victors.

The Government Efficiency Act would provide for the establishment of a bipartisan seven-member sunset commission whose proposals would receive fast-track consideration in Congress "to reorganize, consolidate, abolish, expand or transfer federal programs and agencies reviewed by the commission."  In addition to discretionary programs funded by the annual appropriations process, the bill authorizes the commission to consider changes in any federal program, including entitlement programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

  • Critics worry that a Republican president and a Republican Congress could eliminate a program or an agency without the benefit of a single Democratic vote.
  • But in 1993, a Democratic president and a Democratic Congress imposed a massive tax increase and draconian budget cuts in defense without a single Republican vote -- and electoral retribution was exacted the next year.

Source: Editorial, "The sunset bills," Washington Times, July 25, 2006.


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