The swamp is alive and well and thriving

President Donald Trump has spent a lot of time referring to Washington as a "swamp" and has been telling us that he is committed to "draining" it. 

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WASHINGTON, September 26, 2017 – Both political parties are responsible for what is wrong in Washington.  As long as money drives our politics, candidates for public office, whether they call themselves Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, will do the bidding of those who finance their campaigns.

Republicans may talk of “balanced budgets,” but they were eager to bail out bankrupt Wall Street firms.  Democrats may speak of serving the interests of the working class, but they were just as prepared for such a bailout.

Both Republicans and Democrats raise huge sums from the same Wall.Street establishments.  And when they leave office, look at the huge speaking fees these same firms give to retired officials such as Hillary Clinton. The same Goldman Sachs bankers work in government, whether the president is Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

Even a brief look at the Trump administration so far shows us that rather than any “swamp draining” activity, what we are seeing in Washington is business as usual.


Conservatives who say they believe in small government and are opposed to governmental abuses of power seem strangely silent when Republicans are in power.  This only provides an illustration of how political partisanship makes hypocrites of those who practice it in the extreme.

Consider the example of the Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price. He has, in his brief time in office, taken at least 24 private charter flights, costing taxpayers a reported $300,000.  In early September, Price spent roughly $25,000 on a private charter jet for a round-trip journey from Washington to Philadelphia.  Amtrak takes this trip twice every hour, and the train station is only a few minutes from Price’s office.  On the Acela train, the trip takes 90 minutes.

Given the time spent driving to the airport, Price could have saved not only thousands of dollars but time as well. The HHS secretaries who preceded Price, Kathleen Sebelius, and Sylvia Mathews Burwell, flew commercial around the United States.

Mr. Price’s flights appear to violate a federal law designed to make sure executive branch officials use the most economical travel available.  Politico reported that in a single week, Price took five charter flights along routes and at times when commercial flights were available for a fraction of the cost.

Conservative blogger Allahpundit writes:

“Isn’t this guy a fiscal conservative?  What the hell is he thinking?  We would have feasted for days on a story about some entitled, out-of-touch bureaucrat jet-setting around the country  on the taxpayer dime during the Obama era’?”

Conservative commentator Jennifer Rubin notes that,

“It’s rather easy to see why Price would do this.  The ethical standards in this administration are virtually nonexistent.  The president maintains business operations at which foreign governments, domestic leaders, and other government officials stay.  The president employs his daughter and son-in-law, who both have their own ethical conflicts.  The president has his business in his presidential guise; Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin does the same for a movie he produced and senior adviser Kellyanne Conway does it on behalf of Ivanka Trump’s jewelry. Trump has signaled that self-dealing and self-promotion are all perfectly acceptable.”

In the case of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt, we see regular meetings with corporate executives from the automobile, mining, and fossil fuel industries, in several instances shortly before making decisions favorable to those interest groups.

On the schedule covering April through early September, there were only two environmental groups and one public health group on the schedule.

In May, for example, Pruitt met with Fitzgerald Truck Sales, the nation’s largest manufacturer of commercial truck “gliders,” which are truck bodies without an engine or transmission.

On Aug. 17, little more than two months after the meeting, Pruitt announced that he would revisit an October 2016 decision to apply greenhouse gas emissions standards for heavy-duty trucks to gliders and trailers, saying he was making the decision following “the significant issues” raised by the industry.

Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, said that the manufacturers of gliders have been using their products’ lack of engines to evade stricter air pollution standards, which is why the EPA issued its 2016 rule in the first place.

“It is a classic special interest loophole, one that would mean dirtier air and public health damage.”

One of President Trump’s favorite subjects during his campaign was Hillary Clinton’s private e-mail server.  He legitimately denounced her regularly for this practice.  The crowds roared with shouts of “Lock her up.”

Now, we learn that President Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner has used a private e-mail account to conduct and discuss official White House business. Kushner used the private account through his first nine months in government service, even as the president continued to criticize  Hillary Clinton for precisely the same thing.

It has been reported that Kushner’s use of a private account mirrors a broader trend within the Trump White House.

He is not alone in communicating about official business over private channels.  Many senior White House officials and others in the administration regularly correspond with journalists about government business on their personal telephones, as opposed to using their official lines.

Evidently, former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus and former senior adviser Stephen K. Bannon also used private e-mail accounts.

Republicans like to say that Democrats are profligate spenders, but that they are the party of “fiscal responsibility.”

There Is little evidence for this.

The last Republican administration of George W. Bush gave us our largest budget deficits in history.  President Trump is now poised to provide us with an even greater deficit in the name of “tax reform.”  Initially, Trump promised to make any tax plan revenue neutral.  Rates would be cut, he promised, but so would expensive loopholes.  “Tax reform” has now become simply “tax cuts.”  What is now being proposed is $1.5 trillion in tax cuts with no direct offsets.

Advocates always tell us that tax cuts will eventually lead to economic growth and will not, in fact, dramatically increase the deficit.  This, however, is wishful thinking.

Here we have it, then: constant talk of “draining the swamp” while what we have, in reality, is only a different group commandeering the swamp.

The more things change, it seems clear, the more they stay the same. The game goes on. Republicans denounce “big government” when Democrats are in power, and preside over its dramatic growth once they are in power.

It is delusional to think that people seek political office only to dismantle the power and authority it gives them. Donald Trump may be more bombastic and combative than his predecessors, but the game he is playing is all too familiar. Those who want the government to be genuinely responsive to the public interest must be vigilant no matter which party is in power.  Because most of us are not, we are in the situation we confront today.

 

 

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Allan C. Brownfeld
Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.