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Monday, January 30, 2006


OpinionJournal - John Fund on the Trail
Mr. Armey, a former economics professor, vividly recalls the House leadership meeting in late 2001 that prompted his decision to retire. Afterwards he returned to his office and wrote down his summary of how he saw the GOP Congress behaving: "We come to this town and we do things we ought not to be doing in order to stay in the majority so we can do things we ought to be doing that we never get around to doing." A few weeks later the man who was a chief drafter of the 1994 Contract with America announced he was leaving office.

Mr. Armey's departure had consequences. In late 2003, Mr. DeLay and his whip team twisted arms and held a late-night vote open for three hours to pass a costly prescription drug benefit for seniors. The year before, Mr. Armey had tried to pass a more modest benefit but he coupled it with significant reforms of Medicare that would have improved its solvency. The new bill ditched most of the reforms in favor of "demonstration projects" that then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson admitted he never expected would become reality.

The prescription drug bill may have temporarily taken Medicare "off the table" for the 2004 election, but Republicans will be bedeviled for decades by its rising costs and complexity. At current growth rates, Medicare, its cousin Medicaid and Social Security will consume a fifth of the nation's gross national product by 2020. That number represents the current size of the entire federal government.

Nor have Republicans learned much from that mistake. President Bush and the GOP Congress continue to preside over the largest expansion of government since LBJ's Great Society. Economic growth fueled by the Bush tax cuts created a 22% surge in federal revenue over the past two years. But even that flow is barely keeping pace with spending, which went up by 8% in 2005 and is set to increase by 9% in 2006. When the good times slow down, no one expects it will be easy to slam the brakes on spending.

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