Jeb Bush’s Beltway Climb
He proposes reforms that are good, bad and ugly.
As Florida Governor, Jeb Bush conquered what he called “Mount Tallahassee,” and now that he’s running for President he is proposing to do the same to “Mount Washington.” On Monday he offered some initial ideas on how to do it, and some are better than others.
The good news is that he wants to start by reducing the size of the bureaucratic Everest. “You can have a fast-expanding economy or you can have a fast expanding government, but you can’t have both,” he said in a speech at Florida State University.
His best idea would freeze the federal workforce and then reduce it by 10% over four years through attrition. In particular he proposes a “three-out, one-in” rule—one new hire for every three who leave.
According to the White House budget office historical tables, that would shrink federal civilian employment by some 210,000 from the 2.114 million full-time equivalent (FTE) positions in the executive branch in 2015. As recently as 2008 there were 1.875 million FTEs.
For skeptics who doubt this is possible, Mr. Bush pointed to his record in Florida, where the state workforce fell by 11% over his eight years despite a rising state population. He can also point to Journal contributor and NYU scholar Paul Light, who has described the “inefficiency and bloat” of more than 10,000 senior executives “who occupy more than 60 layers of management just at the top” of the Washington organization chart. Ten percent may be shooting too low.
Mr. Bush also wants a line-item veto along the lines Wisconsin Republican Paul Ryan has proposed. This is a hardy perennial, but it would at the margin enhance the power of a President who wants to control spending (unlike the current one).
“If we reform how government works,” Mr. Bush said, “and build capacity for people to achieve earned success by our very nature we’ll all become conservatives because the demands on government will subside.”
Mr. Bush’s other ideas are more populist gimmicks than genuine reforms. Take his pitch to dock the pay of Senators and Congressmen when they don’t show up for votes. We’d be happier if a couple hundred of them didn’t show up at all. But in any case Mr. Bush couldn’t do this without Congress’s consent, and he’d need their votes to get more important things done. Americans can always throw the bums out during elections.
Even worse is Mr. Bush’s call for a six-year ban on lobbying for former members of the House and Senate, as well as expanding the definition of lobbyist so more people come under its restrictions. This buys into the liberal narrative that the problem in Washington is too many lobbyists.
Businesses have no choice but to lobby a government that can cripple them with a single new regulation. The First Amendment also gives all Americans the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
The real problem is the opportunities for corruption and special dealing that a too-large government provides. Every new regulation or twist of the tax code is an opening for some powerful Member to assist the powerful. But the solution is to reduce the size and scope of the regulatory state and to reform the tax code. Mr. Bush says he plans to propose both regulatory and tax reforms, and those will do more to reduce the influence of lobbyists than will restrictions on lobbyists that will be evaded in any case.
One other benefit of a government that tries to do fewer things with fewer people: It might be able to launch a website without crashing.