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Federal Department of Light Bulbs & Toilets

by Chuck Muth

How many congressmen does it take to change a light bulb? 400.

That’s how many members of Congress recently voted for a bill to force Americans to change the 50-cent incandescent light bulbs they’re currently using and replace them with expensive new, $3 “energy-efficient” light bulbs. As Shane Cory of the Libertarian Party sarcastically put it, "If you outlaw light bulbs, then only outlaws will have light bulbs.”

The ban, which takes effect in 2014, was included in the 2007 energy bill which 314 members of the United States House of Representatives and 86 members of the United States Senate voted for.

Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said he thought the light bulb ban was an appropriate exercise of federal power. Interesting company Reid’s keeping. Because when the bill was originally introduced by California Rep. Jane Harman last March, CNS News reported that two other countries had already taken similar steps to eradicate inexpensive incandescent light bulbs from the planet: Fidel Castro’s Cuba and Hugo Chavez’s Venezuela .

Unfortunately, this is nothing new for Congress. The light bulb ban is simply the latest example of an increasingly intrusive federal government butting into the day-to-day affairs of the average citizen.

Remember the 1992 energy bill, in which Congress banned the 3.5 gallon toilet? It mandated that that Americans no longer use more than 1.6 gallons per flush. Of course, per the immutable Law of Unintended Consequences, the new 1.6 gallon toilets turned out not to be enough to, er, get the job done. So folks found themselves flushing two and three times per visit, thus using the same amount of water, if not more, than they did before Congress stuck its nose into our bathrooms.

Excuse me, but would someone please show me where the federal Department of Toilets and Light Bulbs is authorized by the United States Constitution.

And make no mistake. Congress has no intention of stopping here. Still under active consideration is a new federal ban on top-loading washing machines, as well as a federal ban on disposable diapers. Seems some of our elected officials won’t be satisfied until we’re again washing out our cloth diapers on rocks by a steam in the pitch dark.

The late, great Sen. Barry Goldwater famously declared in the early 1960s that he would “not attempt to discover whether legislation is ‘needed’ before I have first determined whether it is constitutionally permissible.” That sentiment has all but disappeared in the halls of Congress today. One notable exception is Arizona Rep. John Shadegg, a co-founder of the Goldwater Institute, whose proposed “Enumerated Powers Act” would require that “Each act of Congress…contain a concise and definite statement of the Constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that act.”

What a “revolutionary” notion.

Rep. Shadegg has introduced this bill in every Congress since 1995. And to give you an idea of how far Congress has drifted from the limited-government ideal of our Founders just over the last dozen years, the original bill had 103 co-sponsors. The same bill this year? Just 38. Goodnight, Constitution. I’ll leave a non-incandescent light bulb on for you.

Chuck Muth is president of Citizen Outreach Project, a non-profit public policy advocacy organization in Washington , D.C. The views expressed are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Citizen Outreach Project. He may be reached at chuck@citizenoutreach.com.

Copyright 2008 Chuck Muth. All rights reserved. “Muth’s Truths” may be republished providing the column is copied intact, and full credit is given. Talk show producers interested in scheduling an interview with Mr. Muth should call (202) 558-7162