"Count me in!" was my chipper response. I also seem to remember muttering something about preferring an assortment of Bourbon Street hookers running the Southern Baptist Convention to having this lot of Republicans controlling America's checkbook for the next two years.
Maybe that's because right-wing, knuckle-dragging Republicans like myself took over Congress in 1994 promising to balance the budget and limit Washington's power. We were a nasty breed and had no problem blaming Bill and Hillary Clinton for everything from the exploding federal deficit to male pattern baldness. I suspected then, as I do now, that Hillary Clinton herself had something to do with Love, American Style and Joanie Loves Chachi. And why not blame her? Back then, Newt Gingrich felt comfortable blaming the drowning of two little children on Democratic values. Hell. It was 1994. It just seemed like the thing to do.
The terminally rumpled Dick Armey (R-Whiskey Gulch) even went so far as to suggest that the Clintons might be Marxists, drawing an angry personal rebuke from Bubba himself. But 12 years later, it is Armey's fellow Republicans who should be sobered by the short and ugly history of Republican Supremacy.
Under Bill Clinton's presidency, discretionary spending grew at a modest rate of 3.4 percent. Not too bad for a Marxist, even considering that his worst instincts were tempered by a Republican Congress. (Well, his worst fiscal instincts.)
But compare Clinton's 3.4 percent growth rate to the spending orgy that has dominated Washington since Bush moved into town. With Republicans in charge of both sides of Pennsylvania Avenue, spending growth has averaged 10.4 percent per year. And the GOP's reckless record goes well beyond runaway defense costs. The federal education bureaucracy has exploded by 101 percent since Republicans started running Congress. Spending in the Justice Department over the same period has shot up 131 percent, the Commerce Department 82 percent, the Department of Health and Human Services 81 percent, the State Department 80 percent, the Department of Transportation 65 percent, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development 59 percent. Incredibly, the four bureaucracies once targeted for elimination by the GOP Congress -- Commerce, Energy, Education and Housing and Urban Development -- have enjoyed spending increases of an average of 85 percent.
It's enough to make economic conservatives long for the day when Marxists were running the White House.
This must all be shocking to my Republican friends who still believe our country would be a better place if our party controlled every branch of government as well as every news network, movie studio and mid-American pulpit. But evidence suggests that divided government may be what Washington needs the most.
During the 1990s, conservative Republicans and the Clinton White House somehow managed to balance the budget while winning two wars, reforming welfare and conducting an awesome impeachment trial focused on oral sex and a stained Gap dress.
The fact that both parties hated each another was healthy for our republic's bottom line. A Democratic president who hates a Republican appropriations chairman is less likely to sign off on funding for the Midland Maggot Festival being held in the chairman's home district. Soon, budget negotiations become nasty, brutish, and short and devolve into the legislative equivalent of Detroit, where only the strong survive.
But in Bush's Washington, the capital is a much clubbier place where everyone in the White House knows someone on the Hill who worked with the Old Man, summered in Maine or pledged DKE at Yale. The result? Chummy relationships, no vetoes and record-breaking debts.
As a political junkie who wept bitter tears the night Jimmy Carter got elected and shouted with uncontrolled joy when Ronald Reagan whipped his sorry ass four years later, I find myself ambivalent for the first time over a national election. After six years of Republican recklessness at home and abroad, I seriously doubt Nancy Pelosi or Harry Reid or the aforementioned Bourbon Street hookers could spend this country any deeper into debt than my Republican Party. With any luck, Democrats will launch destructive investigations, a new era of bad feelings will break out and George W. Bush will stop using his veto pen to fill in Rangers' box scores and instead start using it like a conservative president should.
Joe Scarborough, host of MSNBC's Scarborough Country and member of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 2001, is the author of Rome Wasn't Burnt in a Day. This essay first appeared in the Washington Monthly.