Republicans Are Right to Oppose Biden’s Bloated Spending Plans. But They Need Their Own Blueprint.
Published in The Washington Post
on April 29, 2021
President Biden’s proposed $4 trillion in new federal spending gives Republicans a familiar target to attack. The GOP should also treat the bloated plans as an opportunity to craft its own blueprint outlining what it can support.
The Republican Party was not always allergic to government action. From protective tariffs to the first antitrust act to the landmark bill that established the Food and Drug Administration, Republicans offered strong programs to protect the weak while promoting strength. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s transformative New Deal, though, largely pushed the GOP into opposing federal action regardless of the rationale. This unthinking negativity was so pervasive that even a Popeye cartoon in 1948 satirized Republicans, portraying them as elephants rejecting all of President Olive Oyl’s proposals. Republican presidents who tried to buck this belief, such as Dwight Eisenhower and both Bushes, always faced castigation by many on the right for their alleged liberalism.
This strategy can work in times of calm and plenty. But when things get rough, people want action. And that always means that when Democrats eventually take power, they have the upper hand in arguing for action on steroids. That impulse brought us the Great Society’s massive expansion in government during the 1960s and Obamacare. Having forfeited the ability to control the tide, Republicans — or at least GOP policy preferences — are always swept away by it.
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Henry Olsen is a Washington Post columnist and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.