Republicans intent on safeguarding power in Washington have drifted from the values of the Reagan presidency and ushered in an era of reckless spending and government growth that threatens to drive them from office, U.S. Sen. John McCain said in prepared remarks Friday.

“Why has our party, the party of small government, lately adopted the practices of our opponents who believe the bigger the government the better? I’m afraid it’s because at times we value our incumbency more than our principles,” the Arizona Republican said in a speech to be delivered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

“We came to office to reduce the size of government. Lately, we have increased the size of government in order to stay in office,” McCain said. “Soon, if we don’t remember what we were elected to do, we will lose both our principles and our office and we will leave as part of our legacy a mountain of debt and bankrupt entitlement programs that our children’s grandchildren will be suffering from.”

McCain, a likely contender for his party’s 2008 presidential nomination, was scheduled to address a sold-out audience at the hilltop library where Reagan is buried.

With President Bush’s popularity at a historic low, McCain’s remarks come as another warning from within the Republican ranks that the party is in danger as the November elections approach.

Alluding to the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, McCain said, “The best and only lasting answer to the problem of political corruption is a smaller government.”

Abramoff, who has pleaded guilty to federal crimes in Washington and Miami, was a leading lobbyists who cultivated top Republican leaders, including former Majority Leader Tom Delay, who left Congress and is facing campaign money laundering charges. Earlier this week, a jury found former White House aide David Safavian guilty of covering up his dealings with the disgraced lobbyist.

McCain went on to deride his party for the explosive growth in the practice of “earmarking,” in which House and Senate members steer federal spending to pet programs without review.

The number of earmarks tripled during a 10-year stretch of Republican control in Congress, “not a record Ronald Reagan would have been proud of,” McCain said.

“We need to stop this, now,” he said.

McCain’s visit to the library comes at a time when critics have suggested he is shifting to the political right in advance of the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, in which conservatives hold great sway. He supports the Iraq war, but has criticized Bush’s handling of it. In February he voted to extend Bush’s tax cuts on dividends and capital gains, which he once had opposed.

In his remarks, he called himself a Reagan disciple.

In a rare reference to his days as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said he learned from other imprisoned military personnel that Reagan, then governor of California, and his wife Nancy “were committed to our liberation and our cause.

“When walls were all I had for a world, I learned about a man whose courage and love gave me hope in a desolate place. His faith honored us,” McCain said.

At a time when America was divided by Vietnam and torn by social upheaval, Reagan “possessed an unshakable faith in America’s spirit and greatness that proved more durable than the prevailing political sentiments of the time,” he added.

© 2006 The Associated Press