The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

How good is divided government?
Mike Rappaport

Ilya Somin writes

If nothing else, the deal provides additional evidence in support of the proposition that divided government reduces the growth of the state, and makes deregulation and spending cuts more likely. Certainly, it is inconceivable that any such deal would have been made had the Democrats retained control of Congress in 2010. One can argue that the Republicans would have enacted bigger cuts had they controlled the Senate and the White House as well as the House of Representatives. But it should not be forgotten that the GOP presided over massive increases in spending and regulation when they controlled all three under George W. Bush. The government-restraining effects of divided government are demonstrated not only by the last decade, but by previous historical experience.

Ilya's view here is interesting.  It raises an extremely important question. But I am not sure whether he is right.

It is normally assumed by conservative Republicans that if the Republicans controlled all three branches, more spending could have been reduced.  I think it is very likely that the deal would have been better had Republicans controlled the Senate.  That would have forced President Obama to stand alone (putting aside any effect that the filibuster might have had).   

What if the Republicans had the Presidency also?  Things get more interesting here.  If it was a big government Republican, like George W. Bush, then I agree that the spending reduction might have been lower.  But if it were a smaller government Republican, I think the spending  reduction would very likely have been greater. 

Here is the key question: Which of the Republican presidential candidates would have led to a greater spending reduction than the deal?  It is just a guess, but I think that Mitt Romney would have led to less spending reduction.  That is pretty damning.  I am hoping that Tim Pawlenty would fall under the greater spending reduction category, but who knows?  

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