When I was a high school student reading the daily Congressional Record, the subscription price for this fascinating political periodical was $12 a year. That was 1950. My Senator, Prescott Bush, would promptly reply to my requests for Congressional hearings and reports. When taxpayers fund the federal government, they are paying for the right to know, to be informed about what the government is doing. Information is the currency of democracy.
Now look at the situation under the Reagan Dark Ages. The Congressional Record is $225 a year, up from $45 in 1971 and $75 in 1979. What citizen, aside from what student, can afford this gouge? The prices of all government publications have gone sky-high under Reagan. If you compare prices in the current Government Printing Office (GPO) catalogs with those in the Seventies, the inflation in the rest of the economy appears like a slow-dragging tortoise. Seven page pamphlets on children’s health go for over a dollar. Other government reports are priced so highly that commercial publishers often print them and profitably undersell the government.
Reaganite philosophy believes you should pay twice for these government materials — first as a taxpayer and second as a consumer. He raised the cost to citizens of the Federal Register — the daily publication that prints government notices, proposed and final regulations — from $75 to $340 a year. The GPO’s Consumer Information Center staff regrets the results of higher prices for their many popular, useful publications — a 75% decline in requests.
The other door slammer by the smiling President is his government’s secrecy. Public Citizen, a group I found in 1971, has studied the pathological darkness over Washington. Here are some examples:
- The Reagan administration has sought to damage relentlessly the use of the Freedom of Information Act by the people. It has issued stringent rules limiting the public’s access to government files and has made it more difficult for individuals and nonprofit groups to obtain documents.
- The Federal government’s historical role in collecting scientific, business and consumer data has been sharply reduced. Reaganite officials want to limit the information collected by the Census. A modern economy cannot be understood without data that is timely and accurate.
- The U.S. Department of Agriculture squashed a proposal to label meat products that legally contain bone chips and gristle. A few blocks away the Food and Drug Administration delayed more informative salt labeling and drug side effect warnings. While the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for years fought effective “right to know” rules so workers can find out about any toxic hazards in their workplace.
- The Office of Management and Budget blocked a proposed Education Department study on illiteracy — thereby sidestepping official verification of this urgent social problem.
- The Federal Elections Commission shuts down a $150,000 computer data base in 1986 — making it costly or impossible to uncover information on political action committees. The Library of Congress drastically cut back its hours until citizens successfully protested.
All this has little to do with keeping the federal budget down. It has everything to do with controlling people by keeping them from getting the facts.
Shortening access to the world’s greatest library by 23 hours a week was supposed to save a million dollars yearly. Just last week, Reagan gave a mismanaged bank in Texas a one billion dollar buyout. I guess he’s telling Americans that they should have been born corporations.