I am constantly amazed at the way conservatives -- the ones who genuinely want to reduce the size of government -- so consistently reject the one proven method of achieving their goal. Here's National Review's John Hood:
The case for a “starve the beast” strategy — large tax cuts to force large spending cuts — doesn’t look so hot empirically, at least at the federal level. Score one for Williamson. But there’s also not much of an empirical case for conservatives being able to talk liberals into fiscal restraint by signaling a willingness to debate how best to raise taxes rather than whether to do so. Flinty resolve is the best weapon. Score one for Norquist.
Flinty resolve! Like George W. Bush, whose anti-tax resolve was without parallel, and who consistently denounced excessive spending!
In fact, there is a great deal of evidence that making bipartisan deals that include tax increases can restrain spending. Here is a chart of federal receipts and outlays since 1980:
See that bump in 1990? That was when George H.W. Bush made a deal with Congressional Democrats to hike taxes and restrain spending. Conservatives fiercely denounced it and swore they would never permit such a betrayal again, a pledge they have kept. Look at the slope of outlays that followed after that. Down, down down.
In 1993, Bill Clinton passed another deficit reduction measure containing a mix of tax hikes and spending cuts. Republicans denounced it as incipient socialism at worst, and a job-killing piece of class warfare with phony spending cuts at best. Spending continued to drop as a share of the economy.
I think this counts as evidence that making deals to increase taxes and reduce spending can work. Indeed, since nearly all actual government programs are popular, securing bipartisan agreement is the only way Republicans have ever successfully reduced spending. And yet, in the Republican mind, it is anathema. In the conservative media, the 1990 budget deal was memorialized as a domestic Yalta, a sellout that must never be repeated. And they conservatives have never bothered to revisit their hysterical denunciations of Clinton's 1993 deficit reduction. (Sometimes they credit his results, but only in the context of defining them as conservative.)
The thing is, I don't support their goal of reducing government, so I shouldn't care. But I do care about long-run fiscal solvency, so it would be nice if you could find some anti-government Republican, somewhere, who was capable of recognizing the intersection of his own ideological self-interest and the interest of fiscal responsibility. Instead they will continue on in their belief that flinty resolve will win the day.
Update: Bruce Bartlett wrote recently about how the 1990 budget deal reduced the deficit.