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Early in his first term, President Clinton tried to launch the biggest federal power grab in 20 years with his wife’s ambitious plan to “reform” the best health-care system in the world.

His grand plan was defeated. But he’s learned a lot since then. Much, if not most, of his radical health-care takeover has since been completed — quietly, incrementally, with the help of a Republican Congress.

Emboldened by his political successes, Clinton is about to let Hillary inspire his next broad socialist experiment — “a major initiative to help working families obtain child care.”

Unlike the complicated, centralized, command-and-control health-care plan, this one is certain to have appeal to Republicans in Congress who have forgotten how to say no to new feel-good federal programs. The program will combine federal subsidies, tax credits and block grants to states.

Why? Because all the polling data say this is a winning issue with middle-class voters — families with two working parents as well as those headed by single mothers or fathers.

We may be too far gone as a society to contemplate the following question, but I’m going to ask it anyway. From where does the federal government derive the authority to create such a program? Under which provision of the U.S. Constitution would such a plan be authorized?

Asking such questions in Washington, these days, is dangerous business. You’re likely to be labeled as an extremist just for raising quirky matters like the U.S. Constitution.

Adding to the risk is that by opposing such a bill you are assured to be labeled by the likes of Ted Kennedy, et al, as “anti-child.” The only thing that seems to count inside the beltway in 1997 is whether an idea can be sold to the people. My guess is that this one will be an easy sell for Clinton.

Those most likely to oppose the coming legislation in Congress say there are 60 Senate votes awaiting practically any proposal that comes down the pike touting itself as a child-care bill. Isn’t that amazing?

Even in the House, where reflexes are slightly less knee-jerk, counter-proposals focus on reducing the amount of federal allocations. The Republican philosophy, these days, seems to be: We prefer to take a slower road to hell.

I don’t understand Americans. Have they become so dumbed down by generations of public schooling that they no longer understand the American Dream? Have they forgotten the unique aspects of our constitutional system of limited government? Or are they willing, as our Founding Fathers feared, to trade their freedom for “security” — for a promise by government to “take care of them”?

If there’s a problem with finding competent child care in America today, it’s a government-created problem in the first place. Who forced most U.S. mothers into the work force? Wasn’t this supposed to be the key to liberation for women? What is turned out to be was a ruse to create a bigger pool of taxpayers bound into virtual indentured servitude to the federal government.

Sure, dual-income families earn more in gross receipts. But the heavy increase in the tax burden has more than compensated for the extra income. Now the government wants to help you raise your kids so you can keep working for them. What a deal! And it won’t cost you that all that much more, really!

If the federal government really wants to help families with their child-care needs, there’s one way Washington really can help — lower tax rates and give families a bigger deduction for child-rearing. Wouldn’t that be simple? Wouldn’t that be effective?

No, we don’t need any more programs that restrict our rights and freedoms. We just need to keep a little bit more of our own money. We know how to spend it. We know how to budget it.

Any other plan — no matter how well-intended or well-meaning it sounds — must be rejected. Your elected leaders inside the beltway think you’re too stupid to raise your own children without their help. Let them know they’ve done enough for you — and to you — already.

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