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Some Republican Revolution


With revolutionaries like these, who needs counter-revolutionaries?

Now that President Clinton has signed all the 1998 spending bills, we have a clear picture just how vigilant the Republican Party, which controls the U.S. Congress, is about cutting back on the scope and power of government. It is not a pretty picture at all.

As the Washington Post put it, the spending bills “mark a reversal of the Republicans’ effort since taking control of Congress in 1995 to shrink the size of the federal government. In some cases the Republicans even allowed substantial increases in programs they once vociferously opposed.”

The total spending figure is $1.7 trillion — a record. The world of Washington spending is so absurd that we sometimes don’t appreciate just how absurd it is. A trillion equals a thousand billion. That’s a lot of money, certainly more than any government should be permitted to spend. When you consider that the money is taken from people who earned it in order to transfer it to people who did not, the magnitude of the government’s imposition is obvious.

Under this Republican budget, domestic spending, not counting so-called entitlements, will grow by $22.6 billion. That’s about 10 percent over the previous budget — nearly four times the rate of inflation. Overall social spending will go up by $70 billion, according to budget analyst Stephen Moore of the Cato Institute. For the first time in three years, government spending will grow as a larger chunk of the economy, significantly over 20 percent. These Republicans are no pikers when it comes to government spending.

While that budget was part of a so-called balanced-budget agreement spanning five years, the first budget will not be balanced. In fact, the deficit will probably be larger than the year before. The proper way to cut the budget, of course, is to slash spending.

The Republicans, in cahoots with Clinton, are showering money on all kinds of government programs. There will be increases in spending on failed education programs, health, highways, transportation, immigration control, the drug war, and the FBI, which has done so much lately to justify public confidence. The GOP made sure to increase spending on programs they used to oppose, such as the Legal Services Corp., Goals 2000, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The IRS was awarded a 10 percent hike to fix its computers.

When the Republicans won control of Congress in 1994, their leaders said they had a mandate from the people to drastically reduce the power of government. If they believed that, what happened? The only plausible answer is that these Republicans didn’t really mean it. Talking about bloated government and the restoration of freedom makes good campaign talk. But when they get down to business, it’s business as usual. And why should that surprise anyone? Like the Democrats, the Republicans are career politicians whose chosen line of work is government. They believe that when there is a choice between government power and individual liberty, power should usually win. They may differ over particulars with the Democrats, but not on the broad issues. For both sides, liberty is a luxury that occasionally can be permitted in narrow areas. But if it threatens government power, then liberty is what goes out the window.

Thomas Jefferson commented that “the natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground.” Surely part of what he had in mind was the incentive of officeholders to increase their own power. They want to be reelected and experience shows that the best way to do that is to bestow goodies on well-organized interests. The people who pay the bills, the majority of taxpayers, are not organized and are usually too busy to get through the thick smoke to see all the damage government spending causes. That’s why most programs consist of privileges for groups that are far outnumbered by the rest of us.

Those of us who want government dramatically reduced and limited should be forgiven for despairing. There might be ways to turn things around, such as term limits and repeal of all restrictions on third parties, but the very people who now hold power would have to permit those changes. I don’t expect them to do that, at least not until a critical mass of citizens stops voting for–and encouraging–them.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.