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The good news is, everybody lost in the 2020 election—at least a little bit. Donald Trump lost the White House, Democrats lost ground in the House, and the Senate remains in contention with the most likely outcome being Republican control and therefore divided government.
The most sought-after prize in politics is a mandate: a win so big that it justifies ramming through an ambitious political agenda. The idea of being in such a position is so alluring that politicians who just barely managed to eke out a victory—or parties that are barely clinging to a majority—will sometimes still try to claim a mandate. It was a thorn in Trump's side that he lost the popular vote so spectacularly while winning the presidency in 2016, for instance, because it made claiming widespread popular support that much less plausible.
But divided government makes it difficult to posture in this particular way, and that's likely to be a good thing for fans of limited government and fiscal discipline during a Joe Biden administration. It's much harder to go big when you are constantly at risk of being told to go home.
Single party control typically comes with a big price tag, regardless of the party in control. In Trump's first term, spending went up about 10 percent, according to data from the Office of Management and Budget. Under George W. Bush, that number was 24 percent. Both men enjoyed Republican majorities in Congress for much of their presidencies.
Under Bill Clinton, however, when government was largely divided, spending increased only 3 percent. And during the presidency of Barack Obama it fell 10 percent. This was not because those Democratic presidents were deeply committed to cutting spending—far from it, though previous generations of Democrats were warmer to the idea of fiscal restraint than the current generation.
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