The following is adapted from a speech delivered on September 26, 2013, at Hillsdale College’s Kirby Center in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the AWC Family Foundation Lecture Series.
As seen in the recent government shutdown and the showdown over the debt limit—the latest in a long series of such crises in Washington—the federal budget stands at the heart of American politics. With few exceptions, the budget has formed the battleground between the political branches of the government—the executive and the legislative—in every administration since LBJ’s Great Society. That starting point is not a coincidence: The Great Society marked the beginning of an expansion of the federal government and a centralization of political and administrative power in Washington that had long been the domain of local and state governments. In addition to destroying the fabric of federalism, this centralization had the effect of undermining the separation of powers, making it difficult if not impossible for Congress, the president, and the bureaucracy to function amicably in pursuit of a national interest. What we have seen in subsequent decades is the steady expansion of a modern administrative state that is distinctively American in that it coexists with a limited government Constitution.