The Medicare prescription drug bill passed by Congress in late November may prove to be a watershed event for political conservatives in America.
This latest expansion of the federal government, potentially the largest in our nation’s history, is firmly in keeping with the failed New Deal and Great Society programs of the utopian left. This leaves true conservatives, who believe strongly in limited government and identify with the Goldwater-era Republican party, wondering whether they still have a political home in the modern GOP.
The Bush administration, aided by a Republican Congress, has increased spending more in three years than the previous administration did in eight. Federal spending has grown by more than 25 percent since President Bush took office. The federal government now spends roughly $21,000 per household every year, up from $16,000 just four years ago.
Columnists have coined the phrase “Big-Government Republicans” to describe the current crop of free spenders now controlling the White House, Senate, and House of Representatives. Many of the President’s closest advisors are Big-Government Republicans, former leftists who have no qualms about spending huge amounts of money both at home and abroad to achieve supposedly conservative ends.
The irony is that conservatives suffered through decades of Democratic control of Congress, always believing that liberals were to blame for the relentless growth of the federal government. When Republicans finally took control of Congress in 1994, many saw an opportunity for a real conservative revolution. But first, conservatives were told, the Democratic administration had to be removed.
In the meantime, spending continued unabated throughout the 1990s. When Republicans won the White House in 2000, another opportunity seemed at hand. The Senate, however, was still in Democratic hands–the last possible GOP scapegoat.
Finally, in 2002 the GOP took control of the Senate and increased its majority in the U.S. House. Surely this was the moment conservatives had been waiting for! Yet the past year has seen more spending than ever, including the disastrous Medicare bill that will cost trillions over coming decades. The latest line is that the GOP needs a filibuster-proof Senate of 60 Republicans, and then, finally, the party can begin to implement a conservative agenda.
When does the conservative base of the GOP, a base that remains firmly committed to the principle of limited government, finally demand new leadership and a return to conservative values? Will conservatives abandon the party when they realize the GOP, at least under its current leadership, is simply not interested in reducing the size and scope of the federal government?
With Republicans controlling the administration and the legislature, and nominally controlling the Supreme Court, the party has run out of other people to blame. Republicans who support bigger entitlement programs and bigger federal budgets have lost all credibility as advocates for limited government.
Ron Paul, M.D., represents the 14th District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives. This is a reprint of his December 1, 2003 “Texas Straight Talk” column, edited for length. Paul’s columns are available online at http://www.house.gov/paul/tst/welcome.htm