March 20, 2013

Neera Tanden is president and chief executive of the Center for American Progress, where Ruy Teixeira and John Halpin are senior fellows.

It is not surprising that House Republicans have chosen to embrace sequestration’s arbitrary reductions and promote even harsher cuts to government health and education services. Reducing government’s size has been the central goal of the conservative coalition in Congress for at least a decade.

But the so-called sequester may well be the beginning of the end of the budget wars that have long gripped Washington, because Republicans may soon face an electoral reckoning they cannot overcome. The rising coalition of African Americans, Latinos, Asians, women and young people that helped reelect President Obama does not share the anti-government sentiment of the conservative base. Time is running out for those on the right who are seeking to slash the size of government.

Far from reviling government as a wasteful colossus whose size must be reduced as fast as possible, voters in this emerging coalition see the federal government as a vital institution whose role in solving problems should be enhanced. As their numbers continue to increase, our political conversation will shift from whether government has a role to play toward debate about how its role should be performed. The unstoppable demographic revolution in U.S. politics means this game-changer looms in the very near future.

It is well understood that African Americans, by and large, wish to see government provide more services and do more to solve problems. But it is less understood that a substantial majority of Latinos and Asian Americans also hold strongly pro-government views.

The polling firm Latino Decisions noted in 2011 that more than 70 percent of blacks, Latinos and Asians believe that government has gotten bigger because the problems facing the country have grown bigger, rather than because government has gotten involved in issues in which it shouldn’t be engaged.

The data on attitudes among Latinos and Asians must particularly gall conservatives. Republicans have argued for years that Latinos should be naturally attracted to their tax and regulatory policies because of the high number of small-business owners among them. Republicans have also noted that, while there are differences among various groups, Asians on the whole have the highest average educational level and median household income of any racial or ethnic group in the United States, including whites.

In the simplistic conservative view of the world, Latinos’ and Asians’ self-interest and material success mean that they should hate taxes and despise big government. But most Latinos and Asians do not despise government or desire more libertarian economic policies. This poses political challenges for the GOP.

With Republicans’ traditional base of white voters declining as a share of the electorate, who exactly are conservatives hoping to bring in to support their supply-side tax policies and budget cuts? Although Americans may dislike government spending in the abstract, there is little evidence that a vision of limited government can win a majority of the changing electorate.

The millennial generation’s views are the other big driver of change. Members of this generation, who are on track to count for almost two of every five eligible voters by the 2020 election, have a positive take on government’s potential role. In the 2012 exit poll, 59 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said government should be doing more to solve problems. Just 37 percent thought government was doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals. These voters are America’s future, and they will change our national conversation about government dramatically in the coming years.

To conservatives’ discomfort, changes in attitudes about government cannot be finessed by softer words on immigration and same-sex marriage. Likewise, new leaders or better outreach and technology will not solve their problems with these rising voters. Perhaps that is why conservatives are being so adamant and extreme about cutting government: Tomorrow’s political terrain is likely to be less congenial to their anti-government fervor, and they want to accomplish what they can before the tide turns.

Certainly, opposition to government spending helps to unite the Republican Party. But each day House Republicans attack government through sequestration and their budget plans, they make their goal of recapturing the country in a presidential election that much harder to attain. The Republican National Committee argued this week that the GOP has to reach out to minority voters to win future elections. The best way to do that is to move away from budget policies seeking to starve the government. The nation has moved on from the anti-government sentiment of the past. The sooner Republicans recognize this, the better off their party — and the country — will be.

Ann Telnaes animation: Sen. Ted Cruz delivers the CPAC keynote address. (Ann Telnaes/The Washington Post)