Betting the farm

Published 10:23 am Saturday, February 22, 2014

There are some things you shouldn’t go all-in on. Risky investments. A used car without a test drive. Negotiations with a preschooler over cookies and ice cream before dinner.

Congress has gotten in a bad habit of going all-in when it comes to national challenges. It shows up in the form of comprehensive bills. With a sweeping stroke of the legislative pen, mammoth bills attempt to overhaul American institutions, often times without regard to the true consequences of the policy. Instead of a measure-twice-and-cut-once policy, the method of operation has been to take action and then figure out what the measurements should have been (“We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it,” as former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi famously said about the healthcare law). We saw this with the Wall Street bailout, the stimulus bills and, most recently, with the Budget Control Act that called for sequestration. The rush to get it done, the gangs of six, 12 or 14, the super-committees, the fight for political points and the attempt to win a deal are poor cornerstones for the legislative process.

We do our nation no good when we attempt these broad comprehensive plans at the federal level. Why? Because we bet the farm. Even if reforms are necessary, going all-in when the stakes are high is incredibly risky. If the plan works, we end up winning big; however, one flaw in the plan could mean the whole thing comes crashing down. That might be a thrilling way to bet at the Preakness Stakes or during a game of poker, but it is no way to legislate the future of America.

Congress’ all-in habit is hurting the American experiment. Our nation is built on the principle that a limited government dependent on the consent of the people secures liberty and creates opportunity. The Founding Fathers intended the states to have certain rights to protect this idea of a republic. The Tenth Amendment was birthed under the premise that states should have the flexibility to experiment where the federal government cannot: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

Today, we’ve shifted as a nation. We have given so much power to the federal government, rather than allowing states to act, that we don’t have the opportunity to get it right first. Andrew Jackson once said, “It is well known that there have always been those amongst us who wish to enlarge the power of the general government…and experience would seem to indicate that there is a tendency on the part of the government to overstep the boundaries marked out for it by the Constitution.” This is true for us today.

When we bet the farm we miss opportunities. We get mediocre compromises that are more of a way out than a way forward. Instead of solutions that will move our nation ahead, we remain stagnant, or worse – set ourselves back. When we don’t know how something will fare, it is better that we not try to do it all at once everywhere. Let’s not become a nation where the federal government consistently throws all of its chips on the table. Let’s maintain the full vigor of a nation of the people, by the people and for the people.

U.S. Rep. RANDY FORBES, R-Va., represents Western Tidewater in the U.S. House of Representatives. His e-mail address is