Transcript: The Great American Debates: 'There's Too Much Government In My Life'

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DONVAN: A broken economy, it was government to the rescue. Social Security born, the financial industry slapped with new rules. And the view that it was a good thing to spend to save the system. It touched that thing inside that says, when something's not right, in a Hollywood way that captures it in a line--

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Should be a law against it.

DONVAN: Mae West in "My Little Chickadee." Well, laws we've got. Plenty of them. And rules and regulations and restrictions and limits and codes and requirements. And agencies and boards and commissions and departments that warn and watch and police, and enforce, and inspect and approve or disapprove. Who wants all this? Well, if you needed it, if you needed the federal government to force open the schoolhouse door, if you needed those checks the government handed out after the Gulf oil spill, if you hated the fact that airlines could keep you on the runways for hours until the government told them they couldn't. If you need the parking space that federal law mandates in front of stores, then, well, it's you who wanted it.

Or maybe not. Not when this agency gets into it, because there's a price to be paid for all of this. And maybe we can't really pay it.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

AMANPOUR: And so, today, we step away from the din to debate what American government should do and what it does well. We're here with a live studio audience at the night studio in the Newseum. And with me on this stage, some of the leading lights in American political thought. On the right, House Budget Committee Chairman Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, and ABC's own George Will. And on the left, Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts, who's just announced that this term in Washington will be his list. And Robert Reich, Bill Clinton's labor secretary, now teaching at the University of California Berkeley.

Gentlemen, we have a lot of ground to cover today and we want to leave time for questions, and so we're asking you to keep answers quite tight. And you'll be allowed a moment or two for rebuttal.

We kick things off with brief opening statements. First, Congressman Ryan.

RYAN: Thank you, Christiane. Is there too much government in our lives? Yes. Ask most people and they will agree. It's no coincidence that government spending has hit record levels while people's trust in government has hit record lows. So the longer answer, why is this, is pretty simple.

Too much government inevitably leads to bad government. When government grows too much and extends beyond its limits, it usually does things poorly. Our founders put limits on government because they knew the limits of government.

The left usually likes to advance what I would call a strawman argument or a false choice, that those of us who believe in the constitutional principles of limited government somehow favor sort of a Hobbsian state of nature, or a social Darwinism, where people are left to fend for themselves completely, only to be exploited by the few who are powerful, and that the only alternative to this cruel society is a vision of a society of total security and total outcome, results guaranteed by government.

Fortunately, this is not the case. Those of us who believe in limited government also believe in effective government. A good and popular government is one that respects its limits. Is one that fulfills its goals and its functions well.

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