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The era of big government has been declared over. All the liberals
who want to establish government control over every facet over our lives
have closed shop and gone home, right?

Wrong. They’ve simply changed tactics. Nowadays, if you’re a fan of
big government, you don’t say so in polite company, in fact, you
vehemently deny it. Instead, you tell the public exactly what they want
to hear; all the while implementing your real agenda with complicated
regulations and massive spending bills. That way, you get exactly what
you want without ever having to go to the trouble of selling it to the
vast majority of Americans who haven’t had their mental faculties
permanently crippled by spending too much time inside the Washington
beltway.

Since I was elected to Congress in 1994, I’ve learned a few things
about the Byzantine, even insidious, workings of Washington.

The first is, whenever a federal agency “promulgates a proposed rule
for public comment” — their words, not mine — it means you’d better
scrutinize the rule very closely, because nine times out of ten it will
bear little or no resemblance to the statute supposedly authorizing it.
Further, these proposed regulations frequently conflict directly with
the Constitution. Their ultimate goal is to create programs that were
never authorized by Congress or the Constitution a permanent part of
American society.

This tactic is even more evident in the case of executive orders,
where Presidents, under the guise of “running” the executive branch, in
fact usurp the power of Congress, and pass de facto laws that do things
like repeal the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution.

A second rule of modern American governance is, if Congress passes a
bad law, it can frequently be traced to an obscure provision in a
massive appropriations bill. From laws unconstitutionally denying
American citizens their right to keep and bear arms, to laws mandating a
national identification system, Congress’ most egregious attacks on
liberty have often been buried in bills that ostensibly do nothing more
than implement already agreed upon fiscal policies.

Both tactics are standard fare for big-government liberals (and even
purported conservatives) who have lost on the battlefield of ideas or
whose goal is to avoid overt decision-making; and who aim to win by
disingenuously manipulating the process from offices tucked away all
over Washington. Nowhere is there a better example of these “principles”
in action than in a new federal rule that will begin the process of
implementing a national identification card for every American citizen.

In a nutshell, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration –
an arm not of the FBI or the Department of Justice, but of the
Transportation Department — proposes to require that every state adopt
an explicit laundry list of federally mandated characteristics for
drivers licenses. This is bad enough in and of itself.

However, the real danger of the regulation lies in its mandate that
every American shall have their federal Social Security number
permanently identified with their state drivers license. Once this
regulation is implemented, anyone who wants to be allowed to drive on
the roads paid for with their tax dollars, will have to produce a Social
Security number and have it printed on their drivers licenses.

Big deal? Yes. This new requirement marks a milestone in the effort
to create a federal mechanism for identifying and tracking personal,
financial, and criminal information on every American.

Once each one of us has a number permanently attached to an
identification we carry every where we go as a prerequisite for going
anywhere, linking a few databases together and associating that
information with each person’s number is a relatively simple process. In
fact, that is exactly what the FBI wants to do with yet another
frightening proposed rule; one that would create a national database of
every law-abiding citizen who purchases a gun in this country. This
proposal brazenly ignores federal laws explicitly prohibiting such a
database.

To say nothing of what a malevolent government could do with this
information, imagine what might occur if your Social Security number and
drivers license didn’t match up due to nothing more than a bureaucratic
snafu. You might not be able to board a plane. You certainly couldn’t
purchase a firearm. You would certainly be the subject of heavy scrutiny
by instantly suspicious law enforcement officers, bureaucrats,
regulators and commercial credit institutions.

We also know the private sector has a troubling record of following
the government’s lead in demanding all sorts of personal information for
everyday commercial transactions. Once the government starts requiring a
standard ID card for everything, it won’t be long before you have to
produce the same information to borrow money, take out an insurance
policy, fill your car up with gas, see a doctor, get a prescription
filled, or register a child in school.

Anyone who doubts the veracity of these predictions would be well
served to examine the plan announced this year by President Clinton’s
British homunculus, Tony Blair. Under the new British plan, a “citizen’s
smart card” will be required in order for citizens to pay taxes, obtain
health insurance, apply for passports, and receive government benefits.
Blair, showcasing his deceptive abilities to a fare-thee-well,
introduced the program in the middle of the Christmas holiday, catching
privacy advocates completely off guard.

History — from Nazi Germany to Soviet Russia — is replete with
examples of a pronounced link between totalitarian regimes and strict,
effective identification systems. After all, it is nearly impossible to
repress one’s citizens if you don’t know where they are, what they’re
doing at all times, and who’s armed and who isn’t.

How do we get ourselves out of this particular mess, involving a
national ID card, we’ve created? First of all, we repeal the section of
immigration law that authorizes it. I have drafted language to do
exactly that, and will be introducing it in Congress this week.

Secondly, and equally importantly, we need to end the dishonest and
dangerous practice of allowing all sorts of unrelated amendments to be
folded into “must-pass” appropriations bills that frequently aren’t
available for review until minutes before Members of Congress are
required to vote on them. Stopping this tactic will at least force some
proposed laws into the daylight of public scrutiny before they are
passed. This isn’t a Republican sin or a Democrat sin, and the practice
will end only when the people demand it.

Finally, we need to closely monitor anything leaving the Executive
Branch, especially proposed regulations and executive orders to make
sure they follow the dictates of the law and the Constitution. Reading
the daily Federal Register is no fun, but doing so is the only way to
slow down the property-seizing, bureaucrat-employing,
liberty-restricting rules that constantly flow out of Washington. Of
course, even if the citizens read the proposals and demand action to
nullify them, if we don’t have a Congress with the backbone to stand up
to a power-grabbing — but popular — President, then it really won’t
matter.

Barr, a former United States Attorney under Presidents Reagan and
Bush, serves on the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the
Constitution.

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