Hands on or Hands off: Candidates on Ideal Role of Government

The 2016 Presidential Election has been anything but boring. It has often seemed like a political circus ever since sixteen Republican public officials and one celebrity billionaire took the stage last August in Cleveland. The Democrats joined the show in October when a self-proclaimed socialist challenged a former First Lady and Secretary of State for the Democratic Party nomination.

This circus has brought forth cheers and gasps as candidates rose and fell, walked political tightropes, and engaged in mudslinging and sometimes childish antics.

Two candidates were left standing in the limelight, dominating in the polls. To move beyond the spectacle of this unusual election season, NTUF has focused efforts on scoring the policy pronouncements of Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton (and Gary Johnson ). After carefully reviewing each candidate's promises on topics including energy, taxes, and international relations, conclusions can be drawn regarding each candidate's ideal role of government. Voters have been presented with options that would steer the federal government, its $4 trillion annual budget, and the national economy on largely divergent paths.

Hillary Clinton has presented a vision for America that focuses on increasing the federal government’s role and scope of activities. This generally involves the federal government taking a more hands-on role in crafting national policies, establishing new federal programs, expanding current government programs, and influencing states to adopt certain policies through conditional federal funding.

Clinton has laid out plans to fortify the Affordable Care Act, establish tuition-free higher education, and expand benefits through entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Overall, Clinton has advocated for more federal government investments and involvement in education, infrastructure, energy, health care, and law enforcement. She has also proposed new and higher taxes, as well as spending through the Tax Code in the form of “refundable credits.”

From these policies, taxpayers can conclude that Clinton believes the role of the federal government is all encompassing. She functions with the assumption that the only way to make any of these areas of life work is for the federal government to take a direct and leading role in the lives of Americans.

Clinton’s new or expanded federal programs will cost taxpayers at least $220 billion per year. The ultimate price tag could be higher: she has laid out 85 additional proposals whose costs could not be determined due to lack of specificity.

Clinton has said that her plans would be offset by increasing taxes on higher income earners, but even when calculating Clinton’s spending against her estimated $140 billion new annual tax revenues, there is a deficit gap of $81 billion. Nevertheless, Clinton’s call for higher taxes on the wealth compliments her desire for the government to address “economic injustice” or “income inequality.”

Rarely during this campaign has Clinton been presented with a societal or governmental issue that she has not prescribed a cure involving more federal government involvement. Her campaign website includes several pages targeted and tailored to specific demographic groups where those voters can learn what government benefits a Clinton Administration would provide for them (We were not able not find any page targeting taxpayers concerned about limited government). Clinton’s overall ideal role of government seems to be one that is energized and active in defining problems in America and rooting out those problems though detailed top-down federal government programs, investments, or initiatives.

On the other hand, Donald Trump has presented a mixture of hands-on and hands-off policies. Most politicians are guided by overarching principles about how the government should and should not function. Trump is not an ideologue, but rather takes each issue on a case-by-case basis and determines whether or not he wants the federal government involved in it. Trump does not fit the mold of a traditional free market, small government Republican.

Trump has presented a vision for America rooted in both national and economic security. He has presented a few policies that do reflect small government values like lower taxes, fewer regulations, and free market options for health care and energy sectors. Trump has also adopted a modified version of NTUF’s Penny Plan to help rein in federal spending in a limited number of policy areas. He has vowed to target “waste, fraud, and abuse” in government programs, but otherwise has done little to specify how else he would reduce the size, scope, and influence of the federal government.

In a nod toward states’ rights, Trump has also called to transform Medicaid into a block grant so that states would have more power to design programs suited to their respective populations and needs. Trump has advocated for locally run education as an alternative to Common Core, has called to open up federal lands for development of energy resources, and would allow individuals to purchase health insurance across state lines. He would expand the role of the government in the states by increase spending on law enforcement, has called for an unspecified “21st Century Glass-Steagall Act,” and significant spending hikes for infrastructure.

Despite his vow to reduce wasteful spending, Trump’s policies would boost federal spending by $20 billion per year. Defense spending dominates his net agenda, and there are 25 additional proposals that we were unable to score that could increase the final cost.

Despite many of their contrasting plans, Clinton and Trump do agree on some issues. For example, both have called for increases in defense spending, reviled free trade agreements, and would increase taxes on investments. And, based on the net costs of their agendas, neither have presented voters with a path to a balanced budget.


A complete analysis of both Clinton’s and Trump’s platform is available at CandidateCost.org.