A Renewal of Small-Government Conservatism?

Whenever Republicans lose an election, a call goes out to return the party to its roots as the party of small government. The problem, critics say, is that Republicans have succumbed to Washington mores and lost credibility on the spending issue. I’m fine with that, but at this point one has to wonder whether such a path is viable at all. This chart from the Heritage Foundation shows the history (inflation-adjusted) of federal spending from 1965 to the present; click to enlarge:


The chart shows who controlled Congress at various times; you can easily track spending by Presidential administration as well. The bottom line is pretty clear: federal spending climbs inexorably regardless of who controls Congress and regardless of who is in the White House. It is true that the Republican Party has lost credibility as the party of small government, although those who yearn for more limited federal government–like me–tend to vote Republican anyway. If the Republicans want to reassert their claim to the mantle of the small-government party, they need to come up with a credible theory on which they are really going to be able to limit, to a meaningful extent, the steady upward growth of the federal budget, not just defeat a few Democratic initiatives at the margin.

Doing that will require coming to terms with what mostly drives the steady increase in federal spending, entitlements. That, of course, is what neither party wants to do. But any effort by the Republican Party to renew itself as the party of limited government is doomed to fail unless it addresses Medicare and Social Security in a credible way.

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