The Return of Divided Government

Not all the electoral returns are in yet. But one outcome is very clear: The Republicans have taken control of the House of Representatives, and therefore we will get a return of divided government. I advocated divided government in 2006 (when its return forced Bush to curb some of his excesses and adopt a more rational policy on Iraq), and 2008 (when its loss eventually resulted in the massive expansion of government that I feared). I think my reasons also hold good this year: divided government tends to restrain the growth of the state, and that when the two parties share power, they curb some of each other’s abuses.

I should also note that nearly all of the major government-restraining legislation of the the last thirty years (e.g. – the 1981 and 1986 tax reforms, the 1996 welfare reform, the deregulations and spending restrictions of the late 1990s) were passed under divided government, whereas nearly all the major expansions of government during that period (e.g. – Bush’s massive prescription drug bill, Obama’s stimulus and health care bills) were enacted under united control (the TARP bailout in late 2008 is the one big exception). This is probably not an accident and is consistent with historical experience. I’m not exactly optimistic about what either Obama or the new Republican House majority will do. But I do think that prospects for limiting government are far better today than they were just a few months ago. And the return of divided government is a crucial reason why. At the very least, we are unlikely to see any massive new government programs enacted, as happened under both united Republican control in the Bush era and united Democratic control under Obama.

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