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Great debate over regulation divides us

WASHINGTON -- Don't give a dog a bone because it could be harmful, warned the Food and Drug Administration a few days ago. Then the agency suggested we are in for enforced salt limits in our diets. On the same day the Centers for Disease Control warned that adding sugar to food increases the risk of heart disease.

When the Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia exploded April 5, killing 29 miners, after years of safety violations, there were calls from outraged Americans demanding to know why the Mine Safety and Health Administration had not prevented the disaster and what it is doing to prevent explosions in other mines.

After the Iceland volcano with the unpronounceable name erupted and stranded hundreds of thousands of air passengers for days, there was a demand in Congress for millions of dollars for a new volcano monitoring agency to warn us about the dozens of volcanoes in the United States that could erupt at any time.

The Senate is tied up in knots right now over how much new financial regulation is needed to protect investors from bad guys on Wall Street even as Americans are struggling to recover from financial meltdown and pay the bills for huge bailouts.

Gun rights advocates successfully blocked the District of Columbia from getting a voting representative in Congress after stripping tough restrictions on gun ownership out of the proposed legislation.

Passions already are boiling over President Obama's next nomination for the Supreme Court and what his or her beliefs about the power and role of government should be.

When heart implants and other medical devices inserted in the body fail, should the government decide who is to blame?

As everyone knows, this nation has way too much debt and is running a higher deficit nearly every year. But the real costs to worry about are in payments to and for individuals, mainly Social Security, which was supposed to be self-sustaining but no longer is, and Medicare.

But even as the Tea Party movement holds rallies in every state arguing passionately that the federal government spends too much and has gotten out of control, the other question we are asking ourselves is: "What do we want our government to be doing?"

If you think the government's main duty is national defense and protection of our borders and that the bureaucrats in Washington should not be worrying about or regulating issues involving the environment, health, consumer protection, child protection, highway safety, workplace safety or any of the other myriad problems that have arisen over the past two centuries, you will probably vote in November for a candidate who espouses less government.

If you think that modern life is too complex to leave individuals without some government oversight, you are probably not a Tea Partier. You are searching for a candidate who will be for preserving most existing federal agencies but who will keep an eye on the deficit and vote down frivolous ways to spend money.

It's a great debate, and there are valid points on both sides. But remember Ronald Reagan, who rode into Washington on a tidal wave of anti-government sentiment. He's a saint to conservatives and one of the 10 most popular presidents. But he also ended up creating the mammoth Department of Education. He fought the air traffic controllers, who are stronger than ever. He went to war -- against Grenada. He left a large national debt.

As frustrating as government can be, it's hard to change it. Just the other day former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that after years of holding important jobs in Washington, she was frustrated the entire time by the way government works.

So take with a grain of salt all those candidates who vow they will swoop in and change the way business in Washington is done.

On second thought, skip the salt, empty the sugar bowl and yank that bone away from Fido.

-- Scripps Howard columnist McFeatters has covered the White House since 1986. E-mail her at