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A boost for activist bureaucracy

Russell Vought | “Build Back Better” is really about building big government


U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., speaks about the environment at the climate summit in Scotland.. Associated Press/Photo by Alastair Grant

A boost for activist bureaucracy
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Over the weekend, a key portion of President Biden’s “Build Back Better” agenda finally reached his desk after the House of Representatives passed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill. The larger piece—a $4 trillion package (or $1.75 trillion if you allow the budgetary gimmicks to make the bill appear cheaper) of cradle-to-grave government welfare spending—is still a work in progress.

The debate has lasted months, and the sheer size, variation in the proposals, and twists and turns in the legislative process has been mind-numbing. If enacted, what can the American people expect? The massive spending legislation is intended to extend the resources and the reach of a large, coercive, and woke government bureaucracy that intends to enmesh itself in the everyday decisions of the American people.

The bill will add to our annual fiscal imbalances and the debt left to future generations. The United States recently closed its second consecutive fiscal year with a budget deficit close to $3 trillion—two years of spending eclipsed only by deficits run as a share of the economy during World War II.

The national debt now nears $28 trillion, amounting to $230,000 per taxpayer. And with the Federal Reserve printing money to monetize the debt built up by profligate spending, inflation is back at 5.4 percent over the last year and it is not likely to recede for some time.

What President Biden calls “Build Back Better” is also designed to transform U.S. society. For instance, it is designed to change the incentive structure by providing free preschool to young children to ensure that another two years of precious child development and formation is conducted outside the home. It is designed to disincentivize work by separating the receipt of benefits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit from earnings while dramatically expanding public housing and healthcare such as Medicaid. It is designed to change the composition of our society, furthering a multicultural ideal with a massive amnesty for roughly seven million illegal aliens in the midst of the most open border in American history.

But it might be the out-of-control climate policies that reveal the true nature of the agenda better. The $555 billion in climate incentives is largely the “carrot” portion of President Biden’s climate agenda. Thanks to the opposition of Sen. Joe Manchin, the Clean Electricity Payment Program to subsidize or fine utilities depending on their clean energy compliance was discarded. What remains is the “stick”—the political and bureaucratic foundation to compel energy choices in the future. Fred Krupp, the president of the Environmental Defense Fund, concluded, “From my perspective … the engine of this bill from the beginning has been tax credits.” He is referring to $320 billion in tax incentives to dramatically expand the market for anything from electric vehicles to solar panels to the production of clean energy, creating clear economic and political winners for the future.

The bill includes other large pots of money, including grants to nonprofits and to state and local governments, funding their own climate goals. One of the most troubling is the introduction of the Civilian Climate Corps in agencies such as the National Forest Service, the National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife. This new “CCC’ would employ upwards of 300,000 climate activists within the federal government. The creation of a Civilian Climate Corps is based on a proposal from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez that is actually far more expansive than the current bill, supporting such things as community organizing in local communities, invasive energy audits, education in schools on concepts such as “environmental justice,” and coordination with favored labor unions.

And what will be the posture of an expanded environmental administrative state towards the public? Burdensome regulation and compliance—as is always the case with bigger government bureaucracy.

Consider one heartbreaking example of an American citizen on whom the Environmental Protection Agency set its sights during the Obama Administration. Navy veteran Joe Robertson spent 18 months in prison and paid $130,000 in fines for digging a few ponds to protect his Montana home from fire. The EPA said he polluted a “navigable water” even though the nearest waterway was 40 miles away. He died shortly thereafter at the age of 80 and did not survive to witness the Supreme Court’s overturn the EPA’s conviction.

This is not really the furtherance of clean air and clean water. This is what activist, entitled bureaucracy looks like. And the American people will get trillions more of it in their homes and communities if the complete Build Back Better agenda is enacted in full. When a government proposes this kind of massive spending, big government is always the winner—every time.


Russell Vought

Russ Vought is the president and founder of the Center for Renewing America and Citizens for Renewing America. Russ served as the 42nd director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Donald Trump. Prior to serving in the Trump administration, Russ spent nearly 20 years working in Washington, D.C., in Congress and with grassroots and public policy organizations. Russ graduated from Wheaton College in 1998 and from George Washington University Law School in 2004. He lives in Virginia with his wife, Mary, and two daughters, Ella and Porter.

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