Former GOP Congressman’s 1996 Prognostication a Tough Reminder

In between expansions of Medicare and the passage of bloated farm bills — not to mention socialistic bailouts — it is not uncommon for limited government folks to pause and lament the failure of the short-lived GOP “revolution” of the mid-1990s. That was a hopeful time when budget resolutions actually included the dismantling of entire cabinet-level bureaucracies.

Today I came across a reminder of those seemingly ancient limited-government days in a 1996 Washington Post article on the budget just signed into law by then-President Clinton. It quoted then-House Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Livingston (R-LA) as saying, “Thirty years from now…They’re going to say this is where the cost of government began going down.”

In fiscal year 1996 the federal government spent $1.5 trillion. The figure for 2008 will be around $3 trillion. Adjusting for inflation narrows the spread but not nearly enough — ditto spending on a per capita basis. Only when you calculate spending as a percentage of GDP does it get close.

Regardless, 12 years since Congressman Livingston made his prediction, the cost of government has certainly not gone down. Dimming the prospect of it doing so is the looming entitlement spending explosion that will be set off as the baby boomers begin to retire en masse. The good news is there are 18 years to go until the outcome is officially decided. Furthermore, although Congressman Livingston is gone and the embers from the “revolution” have long since burned out, Cato is still here to help present and future legislators make downsizing the federal government a reality.