How many congressmen does it take to change a light bulb? 400.
That's how many members of Congress recently voted for a bill which will force American consumers 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.
Following the vote, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid said he thought the light bulb ban was an appropriate exercise of federal power. Interesting company he's keeping. Because when the bill was originally introduced by Rep. Jane Harman (D-Ca.) 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 sticking its nose in the day-to-day affairs of the average citizen.
Do you remember the 1992 energy bill, in which Congress banned the 3.5 gallon toilet, mandating that Americans no longer use more than 1.6 gallons per flush? Of course, per the immutable law of unintended consequences, 1.6 gallons 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 butted into our bathrooms.
Excuse me, but would someone please show me where a federal Department of Toilets and Light Bulbs is authorized in the United States Constitution.
And make no mistake. Congress has no intention of stopping at toilets and light bulbs. 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 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 these days in the halls of Congress.
One glaring exception is Arizona Rep. John Shadegg (R-Arizona), a co-founder of the Goldwater Institute, who has proposed the "Enumerated Powers Act" would require that "Each act of Congress shall contain a concise and definite statement of the Constitutional authority relied upon for the enactment of each portion of that act." Now there's an idea whose time has come!
Rep. Shadegg has introduced this bill in every Congress since 1995. And to give you an idea of exactly how far from their strictly limited-government roots the House has drifted since then, Shadegg's original bill in 1995 had 103 co-sponsors. The same bill this year? Just 38.
Goodnight, Constitution. I'll leave a non-incandescent light on for you.
Chuck Muth is president and CEO of Citizen Outreach and a member of the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii Board of Advisors.