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WASHINGTON-The following Cato Institute scholars are available to comment on the policy implications of the Democratic takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives. Please contact pr [at] cato.org or 202-789-5200 to arrange an interview.
Stephen Slivinski, director of budget studies at the Cato Institute and author of “Buck Wild: How Republicans Broke the Bank and Became the Party of Big Government,” projects that the newly divided government will have a positive effect on the economy:
“Despite what Republicans have been saying the past few weeks, the Democratic takeover of the House won’t necessarily be a bad thing for the economy. That’s not because the Democrats have good ideas on economic policy. They don’t. Instead, the benefits will come from the presence of a divided government and its ensuing gridlock. For instance, gridlock usually slows down the rate of growth in federal spending. That will likely lead to a reduction of the size of government as a percentage of GDP, and that’s always a good thing for the economy.
“Also, the Democratic takeover of the House will likely not have much of an effect on the Bush tax cuts. The cuts don’t expire until 2010 and, in the meantime, Bush would discover where he stashed his veto pen if a Democratic Congress tries to reverse them. Besides, Democrats won’t have a veto-proof majority in Congress, and many red-state Democrats are not going to be eager to raise taxes anyway. Couple that with the gridlock-related slowdown in the rate of budget growth and you have the ingredients for a better set of fiscal outcomes than supporters of limited- government have seen in six years.”
For more information on the economy and divided government, please check out the Cato Institute’s “Election 2006: The Economy and Divided Government.”
John Samples, director of Cato’s Center for Representative Government and author of “The Fallacy Of Campaign Finance Reform” finds that while the Democrats will now hold a majority in the House, they would have enjoyed a more significant majority had McCain-Feingold not banned party soft money:
“The Democrats have retaken the House after being in the minority for twelve years. This result seems more a rejection of the Republicans and President Bush — and especially the conduct of the war in Iraq if not the war itself — than an affirmation of Democratic policies. Some Republicans and many Independents who usually vote Republican voted against the party to protest increased spending and other broken promises by the GOP majority. Despite enormous public unhappiness, the Democrats seem likely to end up with about half the number of formerly Republican seats compared to the GOP victory in 1994. One reason for that was the Democrats might well have had more money to contest more races more effectively had McCain-Feingold not banned party soft money and some kinds of spending on advertising. The nation enters a period of divided government, which if the Democrats win more than a fifteen-seat majority — and thus enjoy the advantages of incumbency — may be prolonged for a decade or more. The Republican Party, for its part, enters a time of struggle for its soul.”
Christopher Preble, director of foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute and co-author of “Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against al Qaeda” argues that the change of power in the House may not result in the change of course in Iraq many voters hoped for:
“As expected, the 2006 elections were a referendum on President Bush’s Iraq policy. The war in Iraq was the leading issue cited by voters in exit polls, with six in ten respondents favoring a withdrawal of some or all troops from Iraq. By contrast, fewer than one in five voters believe that more U.S. troops should be sent into the conflict. But while the voters might have wished to send a message that a change of course in Iraq is needed, it is not yet clear that the change of control in Congress will have a major impact on U.S. strategy in Iraq, or on foreign policy generally. Leaders of the Democratic Party have not coalesced behind a single Iraq policy, and individual candidates for office did not speak with one voice on what should be done. The Republican Party consensus around ‘stay the course’ collapsed even before the votes were cast. GOP candidates tried to localize the elections by putting some rhetorical distance between themselves and the president and his policies, but the defeat of a number of popular Republican incumbents shows that such efforts were largely unsuccessful.
“Congress cannot change U.S. foreign policy, but Congress does have substantial oversight responsibility. Republicans were reluctant to exercise this authority, but new leadership of key congressional committees is likely to usher in a round of high- profile public hearings. This is long overdue. The war has not progressed as advocates predicted it would. The costs have far exceeded pre-war estimates, and the prospective benefits remain speculative, at best. The administration must explain how its approach to the problems in Iraq have changed in response to the new realities, and account for whether or not these efforts are having any measurable effect.
“But while a full public accounting is necessary, it is not sufficient. From the divided government that has been created by the Democrats’ takeover of the House, our political leaders must fashion a new consensus, consistent with the wishes of the American people, for a timeline for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. Before yesterday’s elections, such a dramatic change of course seemed unlikely. But now the political landscape has changed, and this paves the way for fresh thinking on the most urgent challenge facing our country.”
For more information on Iraq and foreign policy, please check out the Cato Institute’s “Election 2006: Iraq and Foreign Policy.”