Bush has either actively sought bigger government, as with the Medicare bill and the No Child Left Behind Act, or acquiesced in it, as with transportation spending and farm subsidies. Returning the favor, the Republicans who control Congress have acquiesced in the expansion of executive power, behaving as if they expect their party to control the White House forever.
It takes no leap of faith to believe that a Congress run by Democrats would be more inclined to impose limits on the president's surveillance, detention and war powers. Or to suggest that Bush might suddenly find his veto pen when confronted by free-spending Democrats instead of free-spending Republicans.
As the Cato Institute's William Niskanen points out, the only extended periods of fiscal restraint since World War II occurred during the Eisenhower and Clinton administrations, when different parties controlled the executive and legislative branches. "Government spending has increased an average of only 1.73 percent annually during periods of divided government," he writes in the October Washington Monthly. "This number more than triples, to 5.26 percent, for periods of unified government."
I am not expecting Democrats or Republicans to act on principle. I am counting on pure partisan perversity, the tendency to automatically resist whatever the other guys try to do, simply because they're the other guys. Blind team loyalty has brought us six years of unbridled growth in the federal government's size and scope. If the elections go right, the same mindless partisanship can put the bridle back on Leviathan.