There was a strong sense of frustration at a recent meeting in Tracy City, a small Grundy County community not far west of Chattanooga.
A couple dozen people turned out for a discussion with their new congressman, Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who represents the 4th District. Business owners and DesJarlais pointed out the crushing federal regulations that suppress economic growth and prevent businesses from hiring as many employees as they would like.
Some stated specifically that Obama-Care socialized medicine would keep them from taking on more workers. ObamaCare will require certain businesses either to provide costly, Washington-approved medical insurance plans or to pay $2,000 penalties per worker. It is absurd to think either of those options will not harm job creation.
Noting the strong unpopularity of ObamaCare a year after it was signed into law, the congressman said, "That's a program people didn't ask for, can't afford and don't want."
Other constituents told him of the high cost of complying with what in some cases are unreasonable regulations by federal entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency.
DesJarlais, who is from nearby South Pittsburg, was duly sympathetic. He said the total cost to businesses of government bureaucracy and regulations can rise to nearly $9,000 per employee. Explaining her frustrations to the congressman, the owner of Dutch Maid Bakery -- the oldest bakery in Tennessee -- wryly declared, "That's a lot of cookies at 69 cents each."
Several counties in DesJarlais' district have among the highest unemployment rates in Tennessee. In Scott County, for instance, joblessness is a crippling 23.2 percent. So it is little wonder that individuals and small businesses in the area are eager for solutions.
Yet the evidence shows that big-spending "solutions" offered by Washington all too often don't solve anything. The $862 billion federal "stimulus," approved in 2009, was supposed to hold nationwide unemployment under 8 percent. Instead, joblessness ballooned to 10 percent and remains about 9 percent today. And that is not counting millions more Americans who can get only part-time work when they need full-time, or who have given up searching for jobs altogether and therefore are not officially counted by the government as unemployed.
Even in areas that got the most stimulus money, there was no guarantee of good results. Marshall County, Tenn., which borders DesJarlais' district, got more stimulus dollars for road projects than almost any other county in the nation. But in 2010, when The Associated Press started looking at the results in Marshall County and elsewhere, it determined there was "no difference in unemployment trends between the group of counties that received the most stimulus money [per capita] and the group that received none ... ."
Today, in fact, unemployment in Marshall County is still a painful 16 percent.
Shouldn't it be obvious to everyone by now that more government spending and bureaucracy is not the answer? How rational is it for President Barack Obama and Democrats in Congress to insist on doubling down on their big-spending policies when the current record levels of spending and debt have not accomplished what they were supposed to accomplish?
DesJarlais and some of his colleagues in Congress are seeking a different path. They want to reduce, not grow, the size of the bloated federal government by restoring it to its proper constitutional functions. They want to cut down on destructive regulations. But they are facing fierce resistance from the president and from members of Congress who are convinced that only more spending can restore our economy.
It is well past time to choose the wiser path of smaller government.