WASHINGTON, January 26, 2017: During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump repeatedly told the country that, if elected, he would “drain the swamp” in Washington. Now, after a year in office, it is time to see how this promise has been carried out.
Unfortunately, the “swamp” is alive and well.
The senior ranks of the Trump administration are filled with one-time lobbyists. Former Trump friends and advisers, like former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and former adviser Roger Stone, quickly returned to high-paid lobbying.
Public Citizen, a watchdog group, has identified 44 people connected to Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence who have registered as lobbyists, generating $42 million in billings.
Transparency initiatives, like the publication of White House visitor logs, have been rolled back.
According to The Economist,
“Not all lobbying activity in 2017 has yet been reported, but it may well be the most profitable to date, given the flurry of activity around the passage of the tax bill in December, which was a swampy affair. The bill was crafted in secret and rushed through. Democratic senators had to receive their copies, with some amendments handwritten, from lobbying firms instead of from their Republican colleagues. The influence industry grew almost as much in Trump’s first year as it did in Obama’s,’ says one long-time lobbyist.”
Bringing back pork-barrel spending
Unfortunately, Washington’s permanent establishment, lobbyists among them, have had little to fear thus far. Although described as “swamp creatures” on the campaign trail, they dominated the “beachhead teams” designed to oversee federal agencies soon after the inauguration, some former lobbyists working inside the same agencies regulating their former employers.
Senior advisers came from the same corporate elite Mr. Trump derided during the campaign.
In early January, President Trump embraced congressional earmarks, which had been eliminated as corrupt and expensive, and urged Congress to bring back pork-barrel spending. How much of the history of earmarks, and why they were eliminated, does President Trump understand?
This is less than clear.
The history of earmarks and corruption is a long one.
The ban on earmarks was put in place seven years ago by House Speaker John Boehner. Earmarks allowed politicians to insert individual spending provisions into larger bills, often without debate or an amendment vote and usually benefiting one congressional district or state. In 1987, President Ronald Reagan vetoed a highway bill because it contained 152 earmarks.
By 2005, President George W. Bush signed a transportation bill that included 6,371 earmarks.
Former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) had a “bribe menu” that told defense contractors exactly how much they could pay for him to deliver earmarks to their businesses. He left Congress in 2005 and spent 7 years in prison for taking $2.4 million for his ‘services’.
Then there was the Bridge to Nowhere. In 2005, Congress earmarked $223 million to link the remote Alaska town of Ketchikan (population 8,900) to the even more remote island of Gavinz (population 50).
Conservative groups have opposed any return to earmarks.
Heritage Action chief executive Michael Needham said it was “nearly unthinkable” that President Trump” would consider reinstating one of the most egregious examples of cronyism on Capitol Hill.” Club for Growth President David McIntosh, a former Republican congressman from Indiana. says that,
“If Republicans bring back earmarks, then it virtually guarantees that they will lose the House. Bringing back, earmarks is the antithesis of draining the swamp.”
Michael Steel, who was press secretary to House Speaker John Boehner from 2008’to 2015, makes the point,
“Earmarks replace the open, democratic process that should be used to allocate federal spending with back-room deals and graft. Worse, earmarks entice members and senators to vote for things they wouldn’t otherwise support. If you, want ‘your’ money for ‘your’ projects, you have to vote for the overall bill. That’s why then-Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn used to call them a ‘gateway drug’ to higher government spending. If you balked at a pricey spending bill or disagreed with leadership on policy, your provisions wound up on the legislative cutting-room floor.”
In Steel’s view,
“The practice of earmarking inevitably invites corruption. Earmarks figured prominently in the long litany of scandals leading up to Republicans losing their House majority in 2006. Boehner, then the House Republican leader, responded by telling members that an earmark ban was the first step they needed to repair the broken bonds between Congress and the American people. Ending the earmark ban would not simply turn back the clock to a more orderly, era, any more than protectionist trade policies would bring back ‘the good old days’ of the 1950s American economy. We need new thinking and new approaches.”
Earmarks have been gone, should stay gone
Responding to.members of Congress who support earmarks, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC), chairman of the conservative House Republican Study Committee, said Congress has functioned well without earmarks for seven years. He dismissed arguments that the Constitution allows earmarks:
“Just because we can make a constitutional argument, I’m not sure it’s always the right thing. In the words of the Apostle Paul, not all things lawful are expedient.”
When he ran for president, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) made ending earmarks central.to his platform. In response to the recent call to return to earmarks, he declared:
“Earmarks are the gateway drug to corruption and overspending in Washington. That’s why earmarks were banned and that’s why they shouldn’t be brought back from the dead.”
Business as usual
We are hearing less and less in recent days about “draining the swamp,” as “business as usual” seems to have replaced it.
Embracing a return to earmarks, as President Trump has done, is a step backward.
It is opposed by most conservatives and is contrary to the change in Washington which the Trump campaign promised. Unless he reverses course, the more descriptive slogan for today’s Washington will be, “the more things change, the more they remain the same.”