Transcript: The Great American Debates: 'There's Too Much Government In My Life'

ByABC News
December 18, 2011, 7:48 AM

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18, 2011— -- AMANPOUR: This week -- a special program on the defining issue of 2012. Has Uncle Sam become too big, too powerful? A bailout bonanza, a welfare state? A tax-and-spend Goliath crushing the entrepreneurial spirit when America can't afford to fall behind? That' the rallying cry of the Tea Party, the mantra of Republican candidates everywhere.

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Washington doesn't need a new coat of paint. It needs a complete overall.

AMANPOUR: At the heart of Ronald Reagan's famous declaration.

RONALD REAGAN: The government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.

AMANPOUR: Today, ABC News and the Miller Center of the University of Virginia present, the great American debate. Facing off here in Washington, the intellectual heavyweights of both parties. For the right, Congressman Paul Ryan and ABC's own George Will. And from the left, Congressman Barney Frank and former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich.

Good morning. And welcome to this special edition of the program. Today, we delve into the fundamental question that's facing American democracy at this pivotal moment. Has the federal government become too big, too sprawling? Americans have always been weary of Washington, but this year that anger seems to be at fever pitch, with poll after poll showing trust in government is at an all-time low. But is this because it's too bloated or too broken? And what about this conundrum, people who oppose big government still want to collect their entitlements?

So today we put all those issues to the test. This is of course a debate as old as the republic itself, and the driving theme of the 2012 elections. And ABC's John Donvan tells us why.


REP. JOHN A. BOEHNER, R-OHIO, HOUSE SPEAKER: Right now, we have got a government so big and so expensive--

JOHN DONVAN, ABC CORRESPONDENT: You listen to this theme.

GLENN BECK: Big government.

DONVAN: Let's call it--

PERRY: Big government economic policies.

DONVAN: Or maybe rant is the word.


DONVAN: And how does this not feel as though we're stuck in a time machine? Because didn't we hold this debate already? Didn't Reagan say 30 years ago--

REAGAN: Government isn't the solution to our problem. Government is the problem.

DONVAN: And 15 years ago, didn't Clinton basically concede?

BILL CLINTON: The era of big government is over.

DONVAN: Didn't Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton come out of the very founding itself drawing America's first partisan battle lines? Because Hamilton had big plans for a strong central government, leadership by an elite, a stretchable Constitution. While Jefferson, he wanted to keep power local and limited and exactly as spelled out in the Constitution, no less and especially no more. Well, guess what? Hamilton dies in a duel, Jefferson becomes president, and then he starts enlarging things, like America itself, buying land rights from France. Like the national debt, which got bigger as the result. And the size of the government? Well, they had to keep adding chairs to the president's cabinet from five in Jefferson's time; the number grew to 7 by 1853; 10 by 1903. Then comes the New Deal.

FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT: The only thing we have to fear is --