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Underwhelming Swamp Draining Plans

 

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.

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There are 56 comments.

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  1. Member

    I agree that tax returns are and should be private so any candidate should have the option of whether to release them. As you say the decision to release is informative in itself. And it would probably spark much more interest in the financial dealings by the candidate on the part of voters and journalists which could be a strong incentive for quietly releasing them. 

    As for this being too much small ball: I suspect this is an opening salvo to be expanded and followed up on if and when progress is made. It probably is also wise to keep the article short if Sasse’s intent is to build public support for actually forcing Congress to take action. Many or most voters aren’t likely to read a lengthy piece at all and the more comprehensive it is the more likely that individuals will find something in it to disagree with, diluting support. 

    Overall, I support and appreciate Senator Sasse’s effort to push for needed reforms though I have to say his chances of getting something like this through any Congress are slight. Unless enough voters get exercised enough to make the congress critters uncomfortable that is. 

    • #1
    • September 13, 2018 at 11:36 am
    • 2 likes
  2. Coolidge

    @Nick, your remedies are spot on.

    • #2
    • September 13, 2018 at 11:47 am
    • 2 likes
  3. Member

    The focus is Congress but they’re suppose to be political and partisan and are generally as corrupt as the power they have to allocate resources. The deep state problem is the permanent staff, the bureaucracy and the bag carriers that end up in DAS position and hang on until fired, these people aren’t supposed to be partisan. The political appointees need to be fired in the first week of a new administration and the career people who were promoted by a previous administration need to be reviewed and decisions need to be made. We may need a new Civil Service Act because we need the freedom to cut vast swaths of civil servants. Almost certainly mistakes will be made, innocents fired, lives totally disrupted. We’ll need some sort of appeal, but civil servants now own their own retirement so it’s ok. It’s all too big, it’s all too defensive and careerist.

    • #3
    • September 13, 2018 at 11:49 am
    • 6 likes
  4. Member

    Ben Sasse has already been baptized in the swamp as “their” next golden boy …

    Weekly Standard reports on Ben Sasse in glowing terms … and Mitch sent Ben’s maiden speech to the entire GOP Senate.

    • #4
    • September 13, 2018 at 11:55 am
    • 3 likes
  5. Member

    It’s a start, and for that reason I’m reluctant to be too harsh on Sasse. The issue that needs to be addressed is that there are several swamps in and around the federal government, not just one. They each require the recognition of different types of swamp creatures, with individualized solutions. Sasse appears to be taking aim at Congress and the Executive. All well and good, but the federal bureaucracy is really the Great Dismal Swamp.

    • #5
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:05 pm
    • 5 likes
  6. Member

    Thanks for the post, @nickh.

    I’m underwhelmed. Other than the lobbying, this looks to me like window dressing and idealism, with an obvious shot at the White House.

    I would like to see more substance and less rhetoric from Senator Sasse. Publicly in his comments and looks like in his legislating, he’s turning out to be more idealist and civility arbiter than capable legislator. Privately, we have no idea his contribution to committees, etc.

    Senator Sasse has gone on and on lately about the Constitution (his comments during the Kavanaugh hearing I thought were masterful) and Congress not taking responsibility, passing it off to the Executive Branch. Where are the serious initiatives that hold Congress accountable (besides the no lobbying)? Significant penalties if they do not perform key tasks as required. For instance, get a federal budget done on time.

    If all members of Congress were on the same insurance they’ve legislated, the bill would get fixed pronto.

    Forced release of tax returns is an example of government intruding where it has no business going. An IRS employee can’t look up the POTUS/VPOTUS tax returns at will, what makes Sasse think anybody else has the right to demand private information? If he wants to release something, how about letting the public know about the lifetime benefits former members of Congress receive?

    Another overreach: congress are still citizens…so what basis does Sasse have for legislating they cannot buy/sell any stocks?

    Since money is his focus, the lifetime benefits need to re-examined.

    • #6
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:07 pm
    • 3 likes
  7. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    As for this being too much small ball: I suspect this is an opening salvo to be expanded and followed up on if and when progress is made.

    FIFY

    If this really is just the beginning, then I think starting with Congress is a reasonable choice. I just don’t see how the proposed bills drain the swamp “once-and-for-all” as he described. 

    • #7
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:09 pm
    • Like
  8. Member

    Require all congressmen and their staffs to wear bodycams 24×7 that livestream audio and video to the internet.

    Same for all non-elected federal employees during working hours.

    Do those two things and the rest takes care of itself.

    • #8
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:13 pm
    • 2 likes
  9. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    Hoyacon (View Comment):

    It’s a start, and for that reason I’m reluctant to be too harsh on Sasse. The issue that needs to be addressed is that there are several swamps in and around the federal government, not just one. They each require the recognition of different types of swamp creatures, with individualized solutions. Sasse appears to be taking aim at Congress and the Executive. All well and good, but the federal bureaucracy is really the Great Dismal Swamp.

    I agree completely. I’m not trying to be overly harsh on the Senator. He’s one of the few in Congress these days who seems to do more than just give lip service to the Constitution, and one of the only ones focused more on what the job is instead of just working on his own reelection. I just wish he had acknowledged in the article that this is just a start and not close to sufficient. 

    • #9
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:16 pm
    • 3 likes
  10. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Require all congressmen and their staffs to wear bodycams 24×7 that livestream audio and video to the internet.

    Same for all non-elected federal employees during working hours.

    Do those two things and the rest takes care of itself.

    24×7 bodycams? But then nothing would ever get done in Congress. Oh, wait. That’s a feature, not a bug. I’m liking this idea more now.

    • #10
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:19 pm
    • 3 likes
  11. Coolidge

    Anyone anywhere who is considering “Draining the Swamp” needs to have a map of where and what the biggest part of the Swamp happens to be.

    A good place to start is with the good people at American Intelligence Media. They point to “Senior Executive Services” as the most likely swamp locale to find the Swamp Denizens by the thousands. Now remember, these people can be appointed by one President and remain inside the various infested bureaucratic niches for decades. This is why so many Obama-appointees are getting fatter and nastier than a Big Momma Croc in a bayou.

    If you want to know more, check out the link. And remember, for members of the SES, there is no “See ya later, alligator.” They refuse to go!

    https://aim4truth.org/2018/01/03/deep-state-shadow-government-revealed-senior-executive-service/

    • #11
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:21 pm
    • 3 likes
  12. Member

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Require all congressmen and their staffs to wear bodycams 24×7 that livestream audio and video to the internet.

    Same for all non-elected federal employees during working hours.

    Do those two things and the rest takes care of itself.

    24×7 bodycams? But then nothing would ever get done in Congress. Oh, wait. That’s a feature, not a bug. I’m liking this idea more now.

    No, lots could still get done.

    We’d just know what they’re doing. As the expression goes, Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    • #12
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:23 pm
    • 1 like
  13. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):

    Require all congressmen and their staffs to wear bodycams 24×7 that livestream audio and video to the internet.

    Same for all non-elected federal employees during working hours.

    Do those two things and the rest takes care of itself.

    24×7 bodycams? But then nothing would ever get done in Congress. Oh, wait. That’s a feature, not a bug. I’m liking this idea more now.

    No, lots could still get done.

    We’d just know what they’re doing. As the expression goes, Sunlight is the best disinfectant.

    It is, and we might be at the point where that’s needed despite the other consequences. Because what this would also do is kill any chances of bipartisan compromises on any bill. No congressman could ever be seen trying to talk to someone from the opposing party to work out a deal if they knew video of the conversation would end up in the campaign ads for their primary opponents. It would be one more factor increasing the polarization of Congress.

    • #13
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:32 pm
    • Like
  14. Coolidge

    Mim526 (View Comment):

    Thanks for the post, @nickh.

    I’m underwhelmed. Other than the lobbying, this looks to me like window dressing and idealism, with an obvious shot at the White House.

    I would like to see more substance and less rhetoric from Senator Sasse. Publicly in his comments and looks like in his legislating, he’s turning out to be more idealist and civility arbiter than capable legislator. Privately, we have no idea his contribution to committees, etc.

    He has no problem plastering his face and voice across TV and radio these days with very direct criticisms of the White House. Whether that’s appropriate is up to the individual to decide.

    Forced release of tax returns is an example of government intruding where it has no business going. An IRS employee can’t look up the POTUS/VPOTUS tax returns at will, what makes Sasse think anybody else has the right to demand private information? If he wants to release something, how about letting the public know about the lifetime benefits former members of Congress receive?

    Another overreach: congress are still citizens…so what basis does Sasse have for legislating they cannot buy/sell any stocks?

    Since money is his focus, the lifetime benefits need to re-examined.

    SNIP

    If all members of Congress were on the same insurance they’ve legislated, the bill would get fixed pronto.

    It should also be repeatedly explained to us citizens what exactly occurs when someone runs for office and collects significant amounts of money. As long as an individual continues to insist they are a candidate for office, they can keep their campaign contributions.

    This is one reason that Hillary Clinton continues her attempt to appear 2020-worthy. If she says, “That’s it – I’m done” all the money she has appropriated from her various campaigns would have to be divested. But as long as she continues her political life, she has access to that moulah. (We are talking about millions and millions of dollars.)

    • #14
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:33 pm
    • 1 like
  15. Member

    OkieSailor (View Comment):
    As for this being too much small ball: I suspect this is an opening salvo to be expanded and followed up on if and when progress is made.

    OS, you may be right. I wonder if that is the approach called for, however. If there’s one thing Congress should have learned from Donald Trump, it’s Go Big or Go Home. They could have gone so much bigger (to make government smaller for one thing.) They could have used that House majority, and White House willing to do major overhaul, and kept the Dems so busy fighting off Conservative legislation they wouldn’t have time to block nominees, etc.

    Sasse was a business turnaround expert, if I recall. He knows you don’t fix an organization that’s completely bloated and dysfunctional with this type of stuff.

    • #15
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:39 pm
    • 2 likes
  16. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    Here’s a thought. I wonder if Sen. Sasse included the tax return bill not because it would really do much to drain the swamp, but because he knew the media would see it as a deliberate swipe at President Trump and give his plan a lot of free publicity? The fact that it is a deliberate swipe at the President is probably just a fringe benefit in this case.

    • #16
    • September 13, 2018 at 12:41 pm
    • 2 likes
  17. Member

    Nick H: The biggest part of the swamp is the federal bureaucracy.

    Exactly. 

    • #17
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:10 pm
    • 2 likes
  18. Member

    Nick H (View Comment):

    Here’s a thought. I wonder if Sen. Sasse included the tax return bill not because it would really do much to drain the swamp, but because he knew the media would see it as a deliberate swipe at President Trump and give his plan a lot of free publicity? The fact that it is a deliberate swipe at the President is probably just a fringe benefit in this case.

    I hope not because such a drama-seeking, drama-inducing move would make Sasse a real hypocrite for calling Trump administration a reality show presidency, wouldn’t it?

    Whatever his reason, his including mandatory private tax returns and no buying of any stocks in a bill that could become law makes me wonder about his understanding of the Constitution.

    • #18
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:18 pm
    • 2 likes
  19. Coolidge

    I propose the following experiment – randomly select 50% of all federal government employees and fire them immediately, forcing the entire to downsize and reorganize in order to fulfill their core/critical functions. All cost savings to be redirected to states by the same proportions as electoral college votes

    I’m willing to bet most of the country would be completely unaffected, but if any parts of the country do happen to be negatively impacted by the staff reductions, those issues can be voted on at the state/local level.

    • #19
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:23 pm
    • 3 likes
  20. Member

    I don’t like any of these ideas. I don’t think that I want to go into it at present. They strike me as band-aid measures and violations of important liberty interests.

    I particularly dislike the complaints about “lobbyists.” I find it to be in the same category as those who want to ban disagreement as “hate speech” or silence their opposition through campaign finance laws. The First Amendment gives the people the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances. Oh, but if I don’t like the petitioners, I’m going to call them “lobbyists,” and then we can regulate the living daylights out of their exercise of their Constitutional rights.

    Here’s what I want to know from Sen. Sasse, and any other members of Congress supporting these ideas. Are you personally being wrongfully influenced by any of these things that you want to change? Are you personally allowing lobbyists to improperly influence your voting? Are you personally in Congress for the purpose of developing contacts that will allow you to make a mint as a lobbyist, after your term? Are you personally voting in such as way as to favor companies whose stock you own, or are you personally using nonpublic information that you have obtained as a member of Congress in order to engage in something akin to insider trading?

    If this does not describe you personally, then precisely what other member of Congress do you think are acting in these ways?

     

    • #20
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:29 pm
    • 6 likes
  21. Coolidge
    Nick H Post author

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):

    Here’s what I want to know from Sen. Sasse, and any other members of Congress supporting these ideas. Are you personally being wrongfully influenced by any of these things that you want to change? Are you personally allowing lobbyists to improperly influence your voting? Are you personally in Congress for the purpose of developing contacts that will allow you to make a mint as a lobbyist, after your term? Are you personally voting in such as way as to favor companies whose stock you own, or are you personally using nonpublic information that you have obtained as a member of Congress in order to engage in something akin to insider trading?

    If this does not describe you personally, then precisely what other member of Congress do you think are acting in these ways?

    As far as the stock one goes, there’s been a few cases recently where this has become public. I think it’s reasonable to assume that it’s happening, even if not all of Congress is acting that way. And if there are any members of Congress acting this way, shouldn’t something be done to correct that?

    You make a good point about how these impact liberty, and that’s not something we should do lightly. I’ve seen others call these proposals unconstitutional. I’d be surprised if Sen. Sasse is proposing something that he doesn’t think will be in line with the Constitution, but even if it is constitutional that doesn’t make it a good idea. That said, by running for office or accepting a government job, you are voluntarily giving up some of your freedom. Those serving in the military don’t have the same free speech rights as the rest of us, for example. I’m OK with saying that if you make the choice to run for office you will have your freedom restricted in ways that the rest of us don’t. 

    • #21
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:42 pm
    • Like
  22. Member

    Meh. Just the opening night of another extended run of failure theater.

    • #22
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:44 pm
    • 4 likes
  23. Member

    Nick H (View Comment):
    I’m OK with saying that if you make the choice to run for office you will have your freedom restricted in ways that the rest of us don’t. 

    That’s why I suggest the body cams.

    To quote the Geni in Aladdin: ” Phenomenal cosmic powers…..itty bitty living space.”

    • #23
    • September 13, 2018 at 1:48 pm
    • 3 likes
  24. Member

    Another twist similar to the lobbyists issue: There’ve been recent reports about countries donating to some think tanks hoping to increase access to politicians. In China’s case, along with the donations come a requirement not to say anything negative about China. .

    Think tanks have significant influence/input on policy in DC, including formulating legislation.

    • #24
    • September 13, 2018 at 2:11 pm
    • 1 like
  25. Member

    Arizona Patriot (View Comment):
    I don’t like any of these ideas. I don’t think that I want to go into it at present. They strike me as band-aid measures and violations of important liberty interests.

    I sort of agree with you about these proposals, but most of the constitutional limitations on the power of government are violations of important liberty interests. That’s the whole point of having a constitution.

    • #25
    • September 13, 2018 at 2:12 pm
    • Like
  26. Member

    Couple more ideas.

    I suspect something like 90% of what’s currently classified doesn’t deserve to be so. Declassify it. Quite apart from the way this would loosen things up in DC this would also devalue security clearances.

    Strip every person leaving government service of their security clearance. If a company needs someone with a security clearance for a particular project then any employee they hire can go through the process to get a new one. Taken together these measures should reduce quite a bit of the value of hiring swamp things for beltway bandit positions.

    Shutter the Department of Education. Education is not one of the enumerated powers of the Federal Government and hence should only be done by the states. Speaking of which…

    Shutter the FBI. With prejudice.

    Peel back the scope of the EPA. None of this ‘declaring carbon to be a pollutant’ crap.

    Sell off the vast majority of all land still in the Federal government’s hands. If it’s that important that it remain park land then sell it to the State containing it. If 90% of Nevada is owned by the State of Nevada then the people of Nevada at least have a chance to influence that. Once you’ve done that dramatically reduce the staffing for the Department of the Interior.

    Take the scythe to the Pentagon. Not the military generally; the Pentagon itself. Any soldier whose bottom has grown large enough to get stuck in his office chair ought to do a tour at Diego Garcia where he can remedy that problem.

    Importantly — don’t tap out when the wailing and gnashing of teeth starts.

    • #26
    • September 13, 2018 at 2:52 pm
    • 5 likes
  27. Member

    I love all of the hate. LOL Their taxes are PRIVATE. Forcing them to reveal them is disgusting. The Minnesota RINOs LOVE this stupid idea.

    Sasse wants to make all of this centralized government “work”. So many Republicans want this. 

    Jay Cost had some really good analysis about this stuff on Jonah Goldberg’s podcast. Much more realistic.

     

     

    • #27
    • September 13, 2018 at 3:43 pm
    • 2 likes
  28. Coolidge

    Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Federal Employee pensions are going to put the United States into bankruptcy if we don’t change those programs. So, that’s issue number 1, in my opinion.

    Raise the age for Medicare and Social Security to age 70. Say that any newly hired Federal Employee no longer gets a pension but puts a percentage of their salary into their quasi-401[k] plan.

    Block grant Medicaid to the states. Let the states spend the money the way they want to, including on tax cuts and/or road & highways and/or education.

    Cut farm subsidies.

    Oh wait. Running on that kind of platform will get you 4 percent of the vote.

    Um. Nevermind.

    • #28
    • September 13, 2018 at 3:44 pm
    • 2 likes
  29. Member

    HeavyWater (View Comment):

    Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and Federal Employee pensions are going to put the United States into bankruptcy if we don’t change those programs. So, that’s issue number 1, in my opinion.

    Raise the age for Medicare and Social Security to age 70. Say that any newly hired Federal Employee no longer gets a pension but puts a percentage of their salary into their quasi-401[k] plan.

    Block grant Medicaid to the states. Let the states spend the money the way they want to, including on tax cuts and/or road & highways and/or education.

    Cut farm subsidies.

    Oh wait. Running on that kind of platform will get you 4 percent of the vote.

    Um. Nevermind.

    …why do Republicans whig out about Trump again? 

    No one is serious or creative about any of this. The ACA could have been wiped out. It wasn’t. 

    • #29
    • September 13, 2018 at 3:51 pm
    • Like
  30. Coolidge

    Sasse has TDS bigly. I’ll believe he is sincere, when agrees to cuts in ethanol mandates. Here’s a quote about Sasse from 2015:

    “The amendments were defeated thanks in large part to Nebraska Sen. Ben Sasse,” Association of Nebraska Ethanol Producers Executive Director Loran Schmit said. “On behalf of the Nebraska ethanol producers, corn growers and consumers a strong thank you goes out to Sen. Sasse.”

    If I could change one thing it would be to end automatic extension of budgets. If 60% of Congress can’t agree to spend a dollar on something, then let the states do it!

    • #30
    • September 13, 2018 at 4:12 pm
    • 5 likes
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