President Trump attempted Friday to put a smiley face on the defeat of the American Health Care Act (ACHA), known to its opponents as “Obamacare Light.” From his perspective, the failure to secure enough Republican votes to pass the AHCA will lead to a “better bill” in the long run, because that future bill will have bipartisan support. The president did not elaborate on how the bill he envisions would be better or what about this bill, which he virtually threatened members of his own party to vote against, he didn’t like.
Opponents of the AHCA opposed it because it was too much like The Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) itself. Trump’s comments beg the question for anyone hoping for less government in health care, rather than more: How exactly will participation by the Democratic Party make the next bill better?
It’s fair to say Trump is far from a typical Republican, especially on health care. He’s supported single payer government health insurance in the past, even as recently as his 2016 campaign. But what about the rest of the GOP? If the House of Representatives is any indication, merely tweaking and renaming Obamacare was a viable solution to what they have denounced for seven years as the first step down the slippery slope to socialism.
This is by no means an isolated incident in the GOP’s history. Despite running on reducing the size and influence of the federal government, Republican presidents and Congresses have consistently presided over more significant expansions than the Democrats. A look at historical data on federal outlays reveals that federal spending increases far more when a Republican is in the White House than under a Democrat, regardless of which party controls Congress.
Beginning with Nixon, federal spending has virtually doubled during the administrations of all three two-term Republican presidents. Even Eisenhower increased it fifty percent, despite two year-over-year cuts in 1954 and 1955, respectively, equaling the percentage increase under LBJ’s “Great Society” (although the latter was accomplished in one term). Spending increased far less under Democratic Presidents Clinton and Obama than under any post-war Republican president who served two terms. It seems unlikely that trend will change under President Trump, who has proposed $60 billion in increases to military and Homeland Security spending.
Republican rhetoric also typically includes “slashing” regulations on economic activity, but the reality rarely bears any resemblance to the rhetoric. Like many of his Republican predecessors, Eisenhower created an entire new department, Health, Education and Welfare, which paved the way for LBJ’s medical entitlements. Nixon created the EPA, which alone is responsible for some of the most stifling regulation on business. Reagan is widely credited for massive deregulation, but most of the meaningful deregulation was passed while Carter was president. George W. Bush’s only two meaningful economic policies were the economically destructive Sarbanes-Oxley Act and the TARP bailout.
Over the entire sixty-four years since 1953, voters truly interested in reducing the size and influence of the federal government have decried what have recently come to be called, “RINOs,” (Republicans-in-Name-Only). This is a term popularized during the Tea Party era to describe Republican politicians who run on shrinking the federal government, but who govern more like liberal Democrats once in office. If only a real Republican could be elected, say the grass roots, then the federal government would finally be brought back within its constitutional limits.
But when have these “real Republicans” ever existed? Once upon a time? If one goes back to its founding in 1854, the Republican Party was the big government party. By 1860, the platform included all the familiar big government planks from its predecessors, the Whigs and the Federalists. And spend big they did, particularly on railroads and other infrastructure, in addition to raising protectionist tariffs.
It wasn’t until Woodrow Wilson and the new Democratic Party leapfrogged the Republicans in terms of big government that Republicans even campaigned on shrinking the federal government, which wasn’t exactly a radical idea following the spending and regulation ramp-up during the largest war in human history to that point. Evidently, Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge are the only “real Republicans” to have ever occupied the White House. And let’s not forget that both merely returned policy to that of their 19th century Republican predecessors. Harding and Coolidge praised Alexander Hamilton’s economic policies and governed accordingly.
Considering the present Republican administration, there has never been a better time for those truly interested in smaller government to confront reality: the ninety percent of Republican Congressman who would have voted for the AHCA are the real Republicans. They represent what the Republican Party has been about for the entire 163 years of its existence: big government conservatism.
It’s time to repeal the GOP and replace it with a party truly committed to less government, free markets and a peaceful foreign policy. While the numbers associated with third parties are not encouraging, one cannot ignore the vast potential represented by that half of the electorate who don’t vote at all. Together with the large number of Republican and Democratic voters who “hold their noses” and vote for the lesser of two evils, a new party formed from the Libertarian, Constitutional and Reform Parties, marketed to disaffected non-voters, could represent a viable alternative.
At this point, what could those seeking smaller, less intrusive government possibly have to lose?
Tom Mullen is the author of Where Do Conservatives and Liberals Come From? And What Ever Happened to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness? Part One and A Return to Common Sense: Reawakening Liberty in the Inhabitants of America.