Politics & Policy

Divided Government Doesn’t Add Up

This country can't afford a congressional shift to the left.

One fallacious viewpoint too often expressed this election season is that a Democrat takeover of one or both houses of Congress would be desirable, since we then would have “divided government,” with each party holding a share of power. Given the problems our nation faces today, this would be disastrous for America.


#ad#With liberal-left Democrats in control of one or both houses, divided government is not going to produce good compromise legislation. Liberal Democrats just don’t compromise very well. When have they ever?


Moreover, the fundamental problems our nation faces today require a full commitment to coherent solutions, not a little of the left and a little of the right jumbled together. We can’t win in Iraq with a compromise between “get out ASAP” and “stay and do what is necessary to win.” And we can’t address the problem in Iran with a compromise between “regime change” and “let’s talk nice to them until the cows come home” (or until they produce a string of successful nuclear tests).


This is true on the domestic side as well. The biggest problem here, and one many conservatives don’t want to think about, is that our major entitlement programs are going to explode over the next generation, doubling federal spending as a percent of GDP to close to 40 percent or more.


Yes, folks, wake up — we are on autopilot right now to Swedish socialism unless we adopt some fundamental changes pretty soon. If anything even close to this happens, small-government conservatives will have been completely routed.


A good conservative idea for addressing the entitlement problem is personal accounts for Social Security, and eventually even for part of Medicare. Such accounts end up sharply reducing federal spending over the long run since they shift spending out of the public sector and into the private sector.


For welfare programs like Medicaid and food stamps, the best conservative answer is to block grant the programs back to the states where they would be run based on work requirements. This was done so successfully with the Aid to Families with Dependant Children program back in the 1990s.


But liberal-left Democrats are implacably opposed to both of these ideas. Their solution instead is to quite literally double federal spending and taxes as a percent of GDP.


These viewpoints will bring nothing positive to the prospect of compromise, and more likely will usher in gridlock. And such gridlock would mean the end of the Bush tax cuts, which under current law will expire in four years.


Many people who support the idea of divided government don’t think much about what should be done to address the big issues. Just throw the Ds and Rs together and make them come up with a compromise solution — the thinking goes no farther than that.


But a Democratic takeover of the House would result in Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Judiciary chairman John Conyers (who started his political life as an open communist), House Ways and Means Committee chairman Charlie Rangel (the sky is the limit on taxes), and other committee or subcommittee chairmen including Rep. Dennis Kucinich (moonbeam), Rep. Henry Waxman (entitlement reform means increasing benefits even more), and Rep. John Dingell (FDR is not still president?).


Don’t expect anything positive to come out of that.


Most troublesome of all is that the current Republican-controlled House of Representatives has been the most conservative congressional body we have had in many years. This House has passed tax cut after tax cut, including legislation that would make the Bush tax cuts permanent and abolish the death tax. (Much of this was stopped in the Senate.)


If this Republican House goes down, replacing the new Democrat majority will not be easy. And don’t think Republicans will interpret the loss as meaning they weren’t conservative enough. Prompted by the mainstream media, they will conclude they have to move leftward to get to the center again. That means huge tax increases will be on the table.


How many years will it then take to turn this disaster around? Will it be too late for America by then?


– Peter Ferrara is a senior fellow at the Free Enterprise Fund and is director of entitlement and budget policy for the Institute for Policy Innovation. He also serves as general counsel and legal director for the American Civil Rights Union.

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