Earlier this year, when Congressional Republicans were debating their political strategy moving forward, they conducted a simple assessment – how much power did they have and what could they do with it? In the end, they understand that there was only so much you could do with a majority in one house of Congress.
This led Republican leaders to the conclusion that they should pick their battles. As Charles Krauthammer wrote at the time:
“The party establishment is coming around to the view that if you try to govern from one house – e.g., force spending cuts with cliffhanging brinksmanship – you lose. You not only don’t get the cuts. You get the blame for rattled markets and economic uncertainty. You get humiliated by having to cave in the end. And you get opinion polls ranking you below head lice and colonoscopies in popularity.”
That last line wasn’t a joke…those polls actually happened.
But what if Republicans were more outgunned than even they realized? Sure, one house of Congress isn’t exactly winning odds when stacked up against an activist White House and a determined Democrat majority in the Senate. But what about the fourth branch of government? Jonathan Turley writes for the Washington Post:
“The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.”
The growing power and unaccountability of the so-called fourth branch was on sickening display over the past few weeks. The State Department’s bunging of the terrorist attack on Benghazi, The Justice Department’s questionable intrusion into the First Amendment rights of the Associated Press, the Internal Revenue Service’s political persecution of conservative groups, and the Department of Health and Human Service putting pressure on businesses to donate to help Obamacare’s implementation are all evidence of bureaucracies run amok.
Nowhere is this trend more troubling than with the implementation and enforcement of Obamacare. By now you’ve probably seen the stack of 20,000 pages of Obama regulations that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell tweeted out. And that’s growing by hundreds of pages each week.
According to a recent study conducted by the American Action Forum, Obamacare has already created $31.2 billion in regulatory costs and 71.5 million hours of paperwork. All told, it would take more than 35,000 full-time employees working year round to comply with the law. And those figures will only get worse as the stack of regulations continues to grow.
There are also questions of whether the Internal Revenue Service, the “fourth branch” agency charged with implementing Obamacare’s myriad tax changes, is capable of handling the additional workload. Those tasks aren’t simply collecting and remitting taxes. Many of them also require significant levels of discretion, such as analyzing the “community benefit activities” of hospitals and determining what counts as a “qualifying” health plan for businesses.
Of course, having Sarah Ingram Hall, who served as the commissioner of the IRS office responsible for tax-exempt organizations during the same period the agency is charged with targeting conservative groups, serve as the director of the IRS’ Affordable Care Act office, doesn’t exactly engender much confidence.
“Now more than ever, we need to prevent the IRS from having any role in Americans’ health care,” said Sen. John Cornyn in response to the news. “I do not support Obamacare, and after the events of last week, I cannot support giving the IRS any more responsibility or taxpayer dollars to implement a broken law.”
The IRS should not stand alone under the spotlight. It’s long past time for all “fourth branch” agencies to get an extra dose of scrutiny. Because well, checks and balances exist for a reason.