Big Budget Bills and the Death of Small Government

Speaking of the new $1.3 trillion, 2,232-page omnibus spending bill that Congress hastily crafted, no elected official had read, and that Donald Trump grudgingly signed into law, Fox News' Greg Gutfeld said on The Five, with surprising nonchalance, “I don’t understand why people are angry over this.  I mean, how could you not see this coming?  Donald Trump is not a libertarian.  He’s not small government.”  With a somber smirk, he proclaims, “small government is dead.  Sadly, as a conservative, it is dead.”


To a certain degree, he’s correct.  We should have seen this moment coming.

Donald Trump notwithstanding, neither Republicans nor Democrats have even feigned fiscal conservatism in the last few years.  In recent memory, though, Republicans did tout fiscal conservatism as a fundamental principle in shaping policy, but that charade ended in 2014 when they lost the ability to claim that bloated government spending was solely the fault of the Democrats in Congress and the White House.

Since 2009, excessive federal spending has been the battle cry of conservatives everywhere, amplified early-on by the upstart Tea Party.  Barack Obama and the then-Democrat Congress had issued the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act, which carried tentative taxpayer price tags of $787 billion and ~$900 billion, respectively.  Disaffected taxpayers who, and whose children and grandchildren, were destined to foot the bill were assured by Republican candidates that majorities in both chambers of Congress would restore fiscal sanity in Washington.  Bills would then be carefully crafted, and actually perused before passage. 

All of that was reasonable enough for Americans to demand.  In fact, it’s disheartening to consider that this is how little we actually ask of the stewards of our wealth in Washington. Imagine handing ~25% of your annual income to a financial advisor to be invested, only for you to not only be unaware of how it’s being spent, but for that advisor to take on massive amounts of new debt in your name without telling you how, precisely, that money will be spent. 

In the real world, that advisor would be arrested and subject to prosecution.  In Washington, it’s often argued, particularly by the left, that anything short of that arrangement is greed and bitterness on the part of the taxpaying “investor.”

But immediately after conservative voters delivered a majority in both the House and the Senate in 2014, John Boehner and Congressional Republicans crafted and quickly passed a $1.1 trillion spending package in a lame duck session, which Barack Obama happily signed.  “We’ve done this in a bipartisan fashion,” Boehner assured disaffected Republicans, “and, frankly, it’s a good bill.”

Democrats had no qualms with such excessive spending they’d been driving for years, so they simply went about their business, proceeding headlong into more peculiar identity politics and inventing new social grievances for their base to be enraged about, like men who think they’re women being able to use ladies’ toilets.  Republicans, on the other hand, simply dropped the notion of fiscal conservatism as a prominent line item in the platform, continuing to harp about Obamacare and immigration, which were still winning issues with constituents.

So, perhaps if you’ve been paying attention, you shouldn’t be surprised by this new spending bill.  But that doesn’t change the fact that you should you be outraged at a 2,223-page, $1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill that even Trump, to his credit, had the honesty to admit that no one had read before voting upon. 

And if you are not outraged by that, but you spent 2010 barking about the fiscal irresponsibility of Obamacare that was similarly passed, then you can be nothing short of a hypocrite.

But then there’s the bigger question.  Is small government really dead?  If the answer to that question is yes, then Gutfeld’s blasé disappointment doesn’t capture the deep despair to be felt in the realization.  Because if small government is dead, then the very idea of America is truly dead.  What exists after its death is something else entirely.

In perhaps my favorite single paragraph of Mark Steyn’s essential After America: Get Ready for Armageddon, he writes*:

Conservatives often talk about “small government,” which, in a sense, is framing the argument in leftist terms.  They’re for “Big Government” – and, when you’re arguing for the small alternative, its easy to sound pinched and mean and grudging.  But small government gives you big freedoms – and Big Government leaves you with very little freedom.  The opposite of Big Government is not small government, but Big Liberty.  The bailout and the stimulus and the budget and the trillion-dollar deficits are not merely massive transfers from the most dynamic and productive sector to the least dynamic and productive.  When governments annex a huge chunk of the economy, they also annex a huge chuck of individual liberty. 

At its core, that is what massive government spending does.  It turns a nation of individual savers and spenders into a nation of serfs, beholden to a government which holds a collective debt that must be paid in order to continue a collective existence. 

Government is simply not a good steward of our wealth, as has been proven time and time again, if our $20+ trillion debt doesn’t signify that enough.  And our wealth, along with the opportunities to freely attain, preserve, or lose it, is among the most fundamental cruxes of liberty. 

This is not a new notion, by any stretch of the imagination.  Our wealth is our property, and to it, we have a God-given right.  That right should is to be protected by a just government, not infringed and usurped to finance the desired whims of others, be they government bureaucrats or envious grumblers demanding free housing, college, or education.

Small government principles aid in preserving this individual right to property.  Big government, which seems to be the preferred panacea for both Republicans and Democrats these days, aids in destroying that right.  And if that right continues to be thus degraded, all that the American idea once was is surely dying.

There should be no surprise in Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi cheering the new spending bill as a victory for big government Democrats.  And again, there should be no surprise in this bill being presented and passed with Republican majorities, despite their having run wholeheartedly against such things not so long ago. 

The biggest surprise, for me, is Donald Trump.  He gave verbal opposition to it before signing it, and even open criticism after signing it.  He seemed honest in doing both of those things, even if the only reason for that is his belief that it wasn’t a “good deal.”

Right now, despite my occasional differences with him, Donald Trump may indeed be a small government conservative’s best spokesman in Washington.  But given that, as Greg Gutfeld says, Donald Trump is “not small government” and never has been, that provides little substance to the thin gruel that we small government conservatives are being offered by Washington right now.

*Steyn, Mark.  After America: Get Ready for Armageddon.  Washington, D.C.: Regnery Publishing, 2011. pp. 346

William Sullivan blogs at Political Palaver and can be followed on Twitter.

If you experience technical problems, please write to