Conservative Republicans are openly complaining about Chimpy’s expansion of the federal government and his unprecedented deficit spending, leading one to wonder where they have been for the past four years. I’m not sure Bush is a lame duck yet, but he is certainly doing his utmost to divide the GOP.
President Bush’s second-term agenda would expand not only the size of the federal government but also its influence over the lives of millions of Americans by imposing new national restrictions on high schools, court cases and marriages.
In a clear break from Republican campaigns of the 1990s to downsize government and devolve power to the states, Bush is fostering what amounts to an era of new federalism in which the national government shapes, not shrinks, programs and institutions to comport with various conservative ideals, according to Republicans inside and outside the White House.
“He keeps expanding the federal involvement into state and local affairs,” said Chris Edwards, a tax and budget expert at the Cato Institute, a think tank that often supports the president’s agenda. “My hope would be that there would be an electoral rebuke of big [-government] Republicans like there was when the tectonic plates shifted in 1994.”
Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), said: “The Republican majority, left to its own devices from 1995 to 2000, was a party committed to limited government and restoring the balances of federalism with the states. Clearly, President Bush has had a different vision, and that vision has resulted in education and welfare policies that have increased the size and scope of government.”
Pence, an influential leader of House conservatives, said 50 Republicans gathered in Baltimore this past week and discussed, among other things, an overwhelming desire to protest the expansion of government by opposing Bush’s education plan for high school students. While only 33 House Republicans opposed the No Child Left Behind law in the first term, Pence predicted that a significantly larger number will vote against expanding the program to cover high schools. Michael Franc of the Heritage Foundation, a pro-Bush think tank, agreed. “It’s a non-starter” in the minds of a large number of Republicans, he said.
Pence said the only reason Republicans have not paid a political price for overseeing a huge growth in government has been the failure of Democrats to field a deficit hawk as a presidential candidate and to capitalize on the public appetite for smaller government. “I think to the extent Republicans depart from the historic commitment, we do so at our peril.”
Bush, never seen as a big fan of shrinking government, has chosen to redefine the Republican Party as more activist, “compassionate” and committed to providing individuals a lift through government policies, aides say. In doing so, he often pushes policies that require conservatives to sacrifice one principle to accomplish another.
Consider education and lawsuits. To win tough testing standards and impose accountability, two goals of many conservatives, Bush pushed through a huge increase in education spending and expanded the federal government’s power to police schools, two ideas that would have been viewed by Republicans as heresy a decade ago.
As for lawsuits, Bush and most Republicans support a federal cap on punitive damages in medical liability cases — which would usurp the power of states — to create a freer, less costly and more predictable marketplace for doctors and consumers. Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), who was first elected to the House in 1994, calls this anathema to the GOP’s states’-rights philosophy.