Topic: Tax and Budget Policy

A Party of Small Government No More

In my book, Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government, I argue that many voters no longer see the GOP as the party of small government. 

Now a new poll from the Club for Growth provides more quantitative backing to my narrative. It’s based on a survey taken in 15 congressional districts. Each of the districts was represented by an incumbent Republicans and each district was generally considered among the most competitive for the GOP this year. Neither were the Democratic or Republican candidates on the ballot in these districts suffering from a scandal that touched them directly.

Two damning results:

Q: “Now tell me whether you think the following phrase better describes the Republicans or the Democrats in Washington: “The Party of Big Government”

Republicans: 39.3%
Democrats: 27.9%
Both: 16.3%
Neither: 9.3%
Don’t know/Refused: 7.4%

Q: Would you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The Republicans used to be the party of economic growth, fiscal discipline, and limited government, but in recent years, too many Republicans in Washington have become just like the big spenders that they used to oppose.”

Agree: 65.8%
Disagree: 26.4%
Don’t know/Refused: 7.9%

Were Ousted Republicans Liberals or Conservatives?

Six Republicans in the Senate and 20 in the House were knocked off this election. In addition, eight open seats went to the Dems. (About 10 contests remain undecided.)

Were the the Republican losers economic conservatives or liberals?

My intern, Emmanuel Caudillo, compiled the scores calculated by National Journal for 2003 and 2004 on the economic conservative voting records of the ousted members. The scores are percentiles showing members relative to other members in the chambers. A score of 100 would indicate the most economically conservative voting record.

Here are the National Journal scores for the losers:

House Loser

2003

2004

Avg.

Jim Leach (IA 2)           46           49           48
Sue Kelly (NY 19)           50           48           49
Nancy Johnson (CT 5)           51           53           52
John Sweeney (NY 20)           53           52           53
Curt Weldon (PA 7)           55           54           55
Charles Bass (NH 2)           60           53           57
Jeb Bradley (NH 1)           60           55           58
John Hostettler (IN 8 )           51           64           58
Gil Gutknecht (MN 1)           49           70           60
Anne Northup (KY 3)           73           62           68
Charles Taylor (NC 11)           67           68           68
Jim Ryun (KS 2)           62           84           73
Clay Shaw (FL 22)           71           80           76
Melissa Hart (PA 4)           84           70           77
Don Sherwood (PA 10)           79           78           79
Chris Chocola (IN 2)           84           88           86
J.D. Hayworth (AZ 5)           91           88           90
Richard Pombo (CA 11)           91           92           92
Michael Fitzpatrick (PA 8 ) elected in 2004  
Mike Sodrel (IN 9) elected in 2004  
       
Open House Seats that Changed

2003

2004

Avg.

Sherwood Boehlert (NY 24)           47           49           48
Mark Green (WI 8 )           57           61           59
Jim Nussle (IA 1)           64           62           63
Bob Ney (OH 18 )           64           63           64
Mark Foley (FL 16)           71           65           68
Jim Kolbe (AZ 8 )           84           76           80
Bob Beauprez (CO 7)           91           88           90
Tom Delay (TX 22)           91           93           92
       
Senate Losers

2003

2004

Average

Lincoln Chafee (RI)           47           47           47
Mike DeWine (OH)           61           53           57
Jim Talent (MO)           62           58           60
George Allen (VA)           82           65           74
Rick Santorum (PA)           82           75           79
Conrad Burns (MT)           82           91           87

Conclusion: The great majority of losing Republicans were economic moderates or liberals. Few of the losers were above the 70th percentile in their votes on economic issues.

Jeff Flake, Take (Another) Bow!

Further to Tom’s post on Monday, our friend Jeff Flake (R–AZ) has written an excellent op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal (subscription required) on the need for Republicans to apologize for betraying their small-government principles. Mr. Flake points to the farm bill, up for renewal next year, as the best opportunity to ” hew back to our [i.e., Republicans’] first principles.”

Yes, please. And may I propose the dairy policy, one of the most egregious examples of Soviet-style intervention, as one of the first to be reformed? Here’s a study I released yesterday on that very topic.

Bravo, Mr. Flake. I wish you the best of luck.

Fiscal Results Mainly Bad

As a think tank that follows state ballot initiatives noted: “Voters seemed to be in a fiscally expansiive mood” [pdf] yesterday.

Caps on state government spending were rejected in Maine, Nebraska, and Oregon. The best chance for passage had been Maine.

As usual, voters fell for the ruse of voting for tax increases when they are called “bonds.” Californians imposed $43 billion in tax hikes on themselves and the next generation of young people by approving multiple bond offerings.

There was some scattered good news. California rejected a proposal to raise energy taxes. And South Carolina voters approved a cap on property tax increases.

For further reading on the generally unhappy fiscal results, read here.

Are the Bush Tax Cuts Really in Jeopardy?

Deroy Murdock has a piece on National Review Online about the threat of tax and spending hikes under a Democratic Congress.     

The threat seems to me exaggerated.  Yes, Democrats would love to raise taxes.  But just because Charlie Rangel would be House Ways and Means chairman doesn’t mean tax hikes are a foregone conclusion.  I actually think President Bush would remember where he stashed his veto pen if his tax cuts were really in jeopardy and it’s unlikely the Democrats will have a veto-proof majority in Congress. (Mark the day: I’ve finally said something complimentary about the president!)  That’s assuming a bill raising taxes even passes out of the House in the first place, of course.  After all, 15 Democrats did vote to extend the capital gains and dividend tax cuts earlier this year.    

On government spending, the same logic applies.  The Democrats are just not likely to have enough votes to get everything they want.  The 30-plus fiscally-moderate Democratic members in the Blue Dog caucus will also have more clout in a closely divided Congress.  The back-bencher GOP members who have always fought against profligate spending – Jeff Flake of Arizona, Mike Pence of Indiana, Jeb Hensarling of Texas, et al – will still be around and have more pull in this scenario, too, especially in the wake of the inevitable post-defeat purge of the current leadership ranks.  Indeed, many Republicans who were quite fond of Big Government when they were pulling the levers might suddenly become budget hawks now that the “other guys” are in charge. 

So, such a scenario would probably not result in a reversal of current tax policy.  The ensuing gridlock would probably result in a slower rate of budget growth as it has in the past (which is something I’ve pointed out before).  The world wouldn’t end.  Indeed, it might actually look a little brighter – at least in the short term – for those hoping to see restraint in the growth of government.