When you groggy out of bed and cook breakfast, the government also approaches your kitchen table. Unlike you, it’s perky.
It is an invisible force in your morning. The government makes sure you can see the nutrients in your cereal. It flutters on your toast, insisting that the flour it comes from contains no more than 75 insect fragments and one rodent hair per 50 grams.
The government also looks after your coffee, requiring no more than 10% of your beans to be moldy. Its satellites inform the weather forecast on your phone for the day ahead. The government weighs the water consumption in your bathroom and controls the fluoride in your toothpaste.
That’s all before you leave home. The government will stay with you from time to time, mostly on, until you turned off the lamp last night – no new incandescent bulbs, please, under a new rule .
The world of federal regulation seems both limitless and microscopic. It touches what you touch. He lends a helping hand at every turn or puts his clumsy fingers into everything, depending on your perspective.
But a Supreme Court ruling last 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 blow to the fight against global warming.
In its farthest reach, regulation has become the go-to way for presidents to craft policy when they can’t get Congress to pass legislation, such as on climate change. Barack Obama and Donald Trump have done so for various policies; Joe Biden does. The court’s conservative majority told Biden not so fast.
The decision jeopardizes Biden’s goal of halving greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the decade, even as the damage from global warming mounts. Beyond that, it can hamper regulation across a whole range of public policy, in education, transportation, LGBTQ rights and more.
Congress, the court said, must speak with precision when it wants to give an agency the power to regulate on a matter of national importance.
Go through the Code of Federal Regulations and you’ll see how specific rulemaking can be. Favorite words in large code are “must” and “must”.
Take sea otters, for example. If you’ve ever wondered how to measure a sea otter, Code has the answer.
The water basin for sea otters in captivity, it states, “must 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 at the end of its tail) and the pool must not be less than 0.91 meters (3.0 feet) deep.”
Even as they expanded government with landmark laws and the resulting explosion of regulations, American presidents have tried from the beginning to simplify government. As vice president, Al Gore has striven to “reinvent” it. Such efforts were generally unsuccessful.
Thomas Jefferson was seeking freedom from bureaucracy as well as American freedom when he wrote of the British king: “He has erected a multitude of new offices and sent swarms of officers hither to harass our people and eat its substance”.
What followed was centuries of new offices and swarm upon swarm of bureaucrats coming here.
Associated Press writer Saul Pett took stock of government in 1981 as President Ronald Reagan tried to rein it in. Pett won a Pulitzer Prize for getting his hands on the giant. He described the government as follows:
“A big clumsy, generous, naive, inquisitive, greedy, intrusive, indiscreet giant with a heart of gold and holes in his pockets, an incredible carcass, a ’10 ton marshmallow’ plodding 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 guilt complex that tries mightily to making up for past sins for no one’s gratification, a split personality who for most of his life believed that God helps those who help themselves and only recently concluded that God needed help, a malleable colossus and vulnerable being pulled all over the place by anyone who wants a piece of him, that is, everyone.”
At the time, the US government owned 413,042 buildings, excluding military installations overseas, and employed 2.8 million civilians and 2.1 million military personnel. The expansion of federal programs has especially swelled the ranks of state and local governments.
In 2021, a year of employment dampened by the pandemic, the civilian federal public service was about the same size as in 1981, while 600,000 or fewer people were in uniform.
For all of this, citizens’ encounters with the federal government often take place in the background, unacknowledged. The days are long gone when anyone could wander through the front doors of Washington’s grand government buildings at will and do business.
However, it shapes their lives. This smartphone GPS comes from the government. Internet too.
People walk on sidewalks built to Americans with Disabilities Act requirements. Text messages and apps are delivered by nearby cell towers registered and licensed by the Federal Communications Commission.
But it is more visible when the government takes instead of giving. Motorists direct 18.4 cents to Washington for every gallon of gasoline they buy and 24.4 cents for every gallon of diesel. Most states take an even larger catch per gallon.
A lot of that money goes to improving the roads you ride on. A small part per gallon goes to LUST – the fund to repair leaky underground storage tanks. And there are a lot of federal auto rules.
The rules dictate how far you should be able to go on a gallon of gas – around 28 miles or 45 kilometers this year. The federal government has standards for airbags and child car seats. The current rules would let you know if people in the back seat haven’t buckled up and remind you to look in the backseat when you turn off the car to make sure you haven’t left anyone there. child.
At work, federal rules are ready to step in if you experience unlawful discrimination or unsafe working conditions. After work, the food at the dinner table got there thanks to a regime of meat, factory and farm inspection and truthful labeling rules.
That pizza sauce? Relax and enjoy. He can only have 30 fly eggs in each cup, per federal mandate. Except when a maggot is present; then only 15 fly eggs are allowed.
When you tuck your kids in, the Feds are also there for the night.
If the youngsters are old enough to move around and get into trouble – nine months – they fall asleep in the only sleepwear that can be sold for them – form-fitting sleepwear or flame-retardant pajamas.
Says a government order: It must be and must be so.
Associated Press writers Amanda Seitz, Kevin Freking and Seth Borenstein in Washington and AP Auto writer Tom Krisher in Detroit contributed to this report.