The Threat To Limited Government In 2008

The Cato Institute’s William Niskanen points out that limited government is unlikely to fare well regardless of who’s elected in November:

An administration and Congress of either party is likely to approve a federal program of universal health insurance. Such a program was endorsed by most of the presidential candidates in both parties, was implemented by former Gov. Mitt Romney in Massachusetts, and has been promoted even by our friends at the Heritage Foundation — despite the prospect that it would substantially increase federal spending, the relative price of medical care, and both price controls and nonprice rationing of medical care. The failure of any presidential candidate or more than a few members of Congress to criticize the $150 billion debtfinanced “stimulus” package as ineffective or possibly counterproductive suggests that there is a broad bipartisan indifference to responsible fiscal policy. Another major threat to limited government that will probably be approved next year, whatever the outcome of the November election, is a first-stage national commitment to reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases; this ineffective but potentially very expensive policy is being promoted as a moral obligation, rather than the best of the alternative feasible responses to global warming.

Each of these would, of course, vastly increase the size, scope, and power of the Federal Government and none of the remaining three candidates who will occupy the White House on January 20, 2009 has pledged to eliminate or even reduce a single federal spending program.

The logic of what we’re likely to face in the future is summed up here:

Bruce Katz, director of the metropolitan policy program at the Brookings Institution, has claimed that “Chicagoland [and other major metropolitan areas] simply [do] not have the power or resources to achieve meaningful reforms to metroscale problems such as crushing traffic gridlock and inadequate work force housing on [their] own. . . . The federal government has a powerful role to play in helping metros address these and other issues — through smart investments, market-shaping information and environment-strengthening regulation. This potential is not being realized, since for too long the federal government has been strangely adrift and unresponsive to the dynamic forces at play in our country.”

Odd — with all these skills and resources, one might think that the federal government would already have solved the major problems of the programs for which it has a clear constitutional responsibility.

You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

  • Nitroadict

    Essentially, we’re all further screwed. I’ll be keeping my horse carriage ready in case anyone wants to give another go at a Continental Congress for a new nation. Bear in my mind, the winter’s get harsh around here, so please send any mail at least a season or two in advance.

  • Stephen Littau

    [N]one of the remaining three candidates who will occupy the White House on January 20, 2009 has pledged to eliminate or even reduce a single federal spending program.

    To be fair Doug, I found the following from McCain’s website:

    John McCain will provide the courageous leadership necessary to control spending, including:

    – Eliminate broken government programs. The federal government itself admits that 1 in 5 programs do not perform.

    -Reform our civil service system to promote accountability and good performance in our federal workforce.

    -Eliminate earmarks, wasteful subsidies, and pork-barrel spending.

    -Reform procurement programs and cut wasteful spending in defense and non-defense programs.

    Sure, he didn’t name any specific programs but he at least seems to recognize that there is a problem with wasteful spending. The real question is, will he make good on this promise? I tend to think he will based on his voting record. Citizens Against Government Waste give McCain a lifetime rating of 88% “taxpayer hero.” McCain’s score is among the highest in the Senate (the Senate average rating was 29% in 2006).

    I have many problems with John McCain (many of which you have mentioned here and in other posts) but fiscal responsibility is not one of them. If I were to vote solely on the basis of the economy and government waste issues, I would easily support John McCain for president.

    Unfortunately, he is wrong on so many other issues. His attacks on individual liberty, his calls for sacrifice and “national service” bother me a great deal. I’m also afraid that he would expand the scope of the war to include Iran and eventually call for a draft (which is completely unacceptable to me).

    I won’t say that I would never vote for John McCain but if I were to vote today, I would probably support the Libertarian candidate. We basically have the choice of two evils; this is why I call this the “Choose and Lose Election.”

  • Doug Mataconis


    Until he actually names a program, his rhetoric is a phony as GWB’s in my book.

    I’ve already made it clear that I will not vote for McCain solely based on McCain-Feingold. A man who has such a low opinion of the First Amendment doesn’t deserve to be President.

    Others, of course, can make their own choice.