Senator Ben Sasse (R–Corn) came out today with a column in USA Today where he outlines his new plan to Drain the Swamp. He starts off his article with a bipartisan attack on the DC swamp culture and he’s just barely scratching the surface. He points out a few examples from each party of corrupt behavior. (To be fair, a full accounting would take several books.) Then he lays out the bills he’s planning to introduce to fix DC’s ethical problems. I’m normally a fan of the Senator, but after reading the article my first thought was “That’s it? That’s all you’ve got?”
Let’s break down the plan. He splits the descriptions into two groups: Three bills that “drain the swamp once-and-for-all” and two that “stop feeding the swamp creatures.”
We’re going to prohibit Cabinet members and their immediate family from soliciting donations from foreign sources.
OK, that sounds good. But why just Cabinet members and their family? Shouldn’t this apply to all government officials?
We’re going to require that presidential and vice-presidential candidates’ tax returns are disclosed.
This one seems just like a thinly disguised attack on President Trump. I’ve never thought that candidates releasing their returns needed to be something required. The fact that a candidate wouldn’t release them voluntarily says something itself. In any case, requiring release of tax returns seems pretty insignificant overall.
We’re going to create a public database of congressional HR settlements, make disclosure quicker, and increase personal financial liability for members of congress.
Another good idea, and one that has been suggested before in light of the #metoo movement. I’m wondering if the other bills that would have increased transparency in this area all died quiet deaths after the initial round of scandals? In any case, this is one I would fully support.
We’re going to prevent members of Congress from abusing their access to information and influence, by prohibiting them from buying or selling stocks during their time in office.
Again, this seems like a good idea if kind of a minor thing. Are we really seeing a bunch of congressmen blindly legislating based on their stock portfolio? And won’t they just have a family member do the buying and selling instead?
Finally, we’re going to put a stopper in D.C.’s infamous Revolving Door with a lifetime ban on members of Congress making money lobbying.
This is the big one based on the reaction I’ve seen so far. But is it really the biggest problem in the swamp? I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, although a lifetime ban seems a bit extreme. I just don’t know what good this does beyond shutting the revolving door between Congress and K Street.
No one disputes that DC is a swamp, but this seems like an effort to drain it using drinking straws. (California now objects to the plan unless paper straws are used.) If we really want to drain the swamp, we need to remove what causes the problem: money flows to power.
The swamp isn’t just Congress and it isn’t just the President. The biggest part of the swamp is the federal bureaucracy. Draining the swamp means cutting the funding for agencies and preventing them from just using the federal budget to pass on taxpayer money to their cronies. It means returning power to the states and removing the incentive for people to pour money into Washington. It means ending policies like civil asset forfeiture and massive filing fees for getting bureaucrats to do their jobs.
America should have the least corrupt government in the world. We don’t. That’s what we need to be addressing, and we shouldn’t settle for cosmetic changes. If this is the best that Sen. Sasse has to offer (or the best he thinks can get through Congress), that’s one more reminder that we can’t expect the swamp to drain itself.