With Every Intervention, Concerns Build Over Size of Federal Government

Health care. The auto industry. Real estate. Wall Street.

As the Obama administration increases regulation and pumps up taxpayer aid in these sectors and beyond, critics say the president is expanding the federal government to unprecedented levels.

Sure, protesters have been on the National Mall for months holding signs about bloated budgets. But it's not just the Tea Party crowd that's concerned. With every step, like the signing of the health care bill last Tuesday, the view that Obama is making historic shifts in the role of Washington becomes more widespread.

"There is a shocking laundry list of interventions by this administration and this Congress in the economy," Republican consultant Jason Roe said.

"This administration seems to want to bail out anybody who'll give it some votes. Chrysler, homeowners, whoever has an open hand," said Peter Morici, business professor at the University of Maryland.

A Fox News/Opinion Dynamics poll out last week found an overwhelming majority of Americans think the government is bigger than it's ever been -- and for most, that's a problem.

The poll of 900 registered voters, taken March 16-17, found 78 percent of people thought the federal government had reached historic proportions. Sixty-five percent said the government is now too big and is restricting freedoms. Among Republicans, that number was 84 percent. Among Democrats, it was 43 percent.

Overall, just 30 percent said they were comfortable with the size and role of government.

But the White House has fought back against Republican attempts to paint the health care overhaul as a "government takeover," and defenders of the Obama administration argue that the expansions that have taken place under his watch were done to counter unprecedented problems in the economy, such as the near-collapse of the financial markets. Action was necessary, they say.

"The goal is not to exercise control over the economy. The goal is to help people who don't have jobs, are in danger of losing their homes and can't have access, don't have access to health care," Democratic strategist Susan Estrich said.

And even conservative critics say it was the Bush administration's response to the financial crisis -- the $700 billion bailout -- that started this ball rolling.

"Bush handed the keys to Obama when he opened the bailout floodgates -- and so it made it possible for Obama to do this $787 billion stimulus," said Tim Carney, author of "Obamanomics." "You say $787 billion, are you crazy? But just a couple months before, we did $700 billion."

Some Democrats say shrinking the government would actually be more popular -- if only Obama were in a position to do that.

"I'm sure he would like to shrink the size of government. We all would as Americans. It is a very American notion," said Richard Socarides, a former adviser to President Clinton. "But when you are faced with these enormous economic and social problems we face in this country, you have little alternative but to in some ways expand the role of government in fixing them."

Fox News' Jim Angle contributed to this report.