Monday, December 16, 2013

Ryan-Murray and the problem with bipartisanship

"I can bring people together." That's what every presidential candidate says during a campaign, and perhaps for good reason: polls consistently show that voters respond favorably to promises of goodwill, compromise, and bipartisanship.

But is it really a good thing when politicians "come together" to "get things done"? For smaller-government advocates, the answer is usually no. When bitter partisanship rules the day, Congress generally refrains from increasing spending or taxes--in fact, Congress refrains from doing much of anything in those situations. For conservatives upset with an endlessly expanding public sector, just slowing the growth is a real victory.

At least they're not enlarging the government.

Sometimes even extreme divisiveness produces good results. Take the sequester. Its forced spending cuts (including for defense) were seen as so unpalatable that the parties would simply have to agree to an alternative. Well, they didn't. Negotiations broke down, both sides pointed the finger at the other, and the sequester went through, delivering a rare treat for small-government conservatives and libertarians: genuine spending cuts.

But now suddenly Republicans and Democrats are in a bipartisan mood, and all the good feelings have produced a two-year budget known as the Ryan-Murray plan. The plan increases both spending and revenue today, with promises of future cuts that may or may not materialize.

How disappointing. It seems that when politicians work together in the spirit of goodwill and cooperation, the government usually gets bigger. So maybe divisiveness isn't so bad.

(For my take on the pension provisions in the Ryan-Murray plan, please read my piece for National Review here.)

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