Decades of disappointment should have taught us that the Republican Party’s big wins Tuesday will change little or nothing that comes out of Washington, DC in a substantive way.
The federal government and national debt grew under Republican Presidents Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I and Bush II. Republicans have repeatedly used limited-government rhetoric to get elected and then have embraced big government when they have controlled it.
Going all the way back to Nixon, remember that Medicare and Lyndon Johnson’s other “Great Society” programs were barely off the ground when he took office. They could have been ended then because they were still small. Nixon instead let them grow and gave us a host of new regulations and government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, certainly one of the government’s most abusive and renegade agencies.
Nixon also unilaterally shredded the international Bretton Woods system that was created near the end of World War II to establish fixed foreign exchange rates, with the dollar pegged at $35 for an ounce of gold. This made the US dollar a purely paper currency and set the stage for massive money printing and inflation. Nixon also imposed national wage and price controls because of the economic shock his policies caused. Imagine the howling we’d hear if Barack Obama were to impose wage and price controls!
Skipping ahead to the last time Republicans had control of the House and at least half the Senate, with a Republican president to back it up — during the George W. Bush (Bush II) administration that began in 2001 — they gave us huge increases in federal involvement in education with No Child Left Behind, and huge increases in entitlement spending by introducing Medicare prescription drug coverage. They let the national debt soar. They expanded business subsidy programs. They expanded the surveillance state and poured military hardware into local police departments. They enthusiastically backed military spending for attacks against countries whose governments had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. They gave us thousands of budget “earmarks” that were just billions of dollars of slush fund spending.
Those Republicans did give us tax cuts, but they made them temporary, and the tax cuts actually concentrated the tax burden onto fewer households.
George Bush the Elder gave us the infamous, “Read my lips, no new taxes” broken pledge; George Bush the Younger gave us the infamous, “I’ve abandoned free-market principles to save the free-market system” excuse for bailing out financial institutions, insurers and automakers.
Even if Republicans this time do try to substantially shrink the size and power of government, President Obama would veto the moves, and there is little chance the vetoes would be overridden. As several Heartland Institute advisers today note in a press statement on the election results, some Republicans are already softening their pledges to fight the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare.
At the state level, the Republicans might have more impact, because true believers in limited government have a better chance of being elected at state and local levels, and turning a state is easier than turning the national government, just as turning a rowboat is easier than turning a battleship. In recent years we’ve seen big improvements in tax and regulatory policies in a number of states, including Indiana, Michigan, Missouri, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
On the other hand, Virginia recently went downhill under Republican leadership, and in Democrat-dominated Illinois, where Republican challenger Bruce Rauner this week defeated the Democrat incumbent, the General Assembly remains overwhelmingly in Democrat control. And who knows where Rauner really stands? He’s been all over the map on the minimum wage. He has declared his desire for big increases in education and infrastructure spending, even though Illinois has huge debts and budget deficits and the nation’s worst credit rating. He has declared a desire to expand the sales tax to services and to close “tax loopholes.” It’s possible Illinois could end up with a net tax increase even with a rollback in the state income tax rate that is scheduled to happen in 2015.
Furthermore, Rauner and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel — who used to be President Obama’s chief of staff after having been a Democratic Party Congressman — are great friends. I doubt Rauner will reduce the flow of tax dollars collected from across the state to Chicago.
“Be humble in victory, Republicans – and don’t screw this up by returning to your old ways.” Those are the words of Ben Domenech, Heartland’s senior fellow for health care policy.
It’s good advice — advice the Republicans repeatedly have rejected over the years.
I know past performance is no guarantee of future performance, but it is a good indicator.