The Debt Deal and Divided Government

The debt deal passed today does not go as far in cutting spending as I would like. But it does nonetheless enact substantial cuts without any tax increases, with a significant likelihood of more cuts in the future. If the bipartisan commission created by the new legislation fails to come up with a spending cut plan or Congress fails to enact the plan, there will be additional automatic cuts in both civilian and military spending.

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.

The evidence on the effects of divided government undercuts Democrats’ claims that they can be trusted to get spending under control on their own. But it should also give pause to conservatives who believe that our fiscal problems will be solved if only the GOP can make a clean sweep in 2012.