I have no problem with rational skepticism when it comes to political claims and eventual outcomes, but usually I’d like for a fight to get started before I declare it a failure. My friends at Reason TV prefer to get ahead of the curve. In their latest video, Reason asks how long they have to wait to declare the new Congress a failure on spending reductions, and then answers their own question by doing it now. They base their conclusion on the failure of the 1994 Republican revolution to deliver any real spending reforms or reductions:
Ever since their midterm triumph, the GOP has talked tough about cutting spending. Here’s hoping they make good on those promises, but they spouted the same tough talk after their 1994 election triumph and look what happened.
Back then the Republican revolutionaries targeted more than 200 programs for complete and utter elimination. They scored some minor victories (adios helium fund!), but a decade into their “revolution” (and after they gained a Republican president) inflation-adjusted spending on the combined budgets of the 101 largest programs slated for elimination actually increased by 27 percent. (source: Cato)
And since then total federal spending has continued to soar, so why should we take Republicans seriously this time?
The countdown to disappointment starts now.
These are fair points, but it leaves out some significant context. First, the GOP did challenge the Clinton administration on spending in 1995, the first year of their majority, and played chicken with Bill Clinton all the way through to a government shutdown. The public was not prepared for that outcome and clearly didn’t want it, perhaps because the GOP won their majorities more on the back of several scandals and the attempt to impose HillaryCare rather than anger over spending, which hadn’t accelerated outside of historical norms at that time. The political backlash quieted Republicans, who shifted to their K-Street strategy.
This time, however, spending was one of the most explicit mandates of the midterms. Spending has rapidly accelerated over the last decade, and especially since Democrats took control of Congress in 2007, rising almost 40% annually over just three years. Republicans have a greater mandate to challenge the Obama administration on budget issues than in 1995, and the Tea Party standing as a potential third-party threat if the GOP gets weak-kneed. Republicans won’t win all of their battles, not with Democrats in charge of the Senate and the White House, but at least they have stronger political winds at their backs for a knock-down fight.
This will be a long process. Skepticism will be essential in keeping pressure on Republicans to fight, but defeatism before John Boehner gavels the House to order for the first time will be counterproductive to that effort. Engagement will be the key.