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Outsiders vs. Insiders: Swamp creatures fighting fiercely to preserve big government in DC

DACA this, DACA that…have we solved DACA yet? Does the whole Washington swamp world really revolve around one issue at a time, whatever the creatures want to shriek about?

Last month House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said it would be “Armageddon” if the Republicans’ tax cuts passed and last week Senator Dianne Feinstein warned people would die if the government shut down. Not much makes sense these days and nothing’s predictable in the political realm – except for the fact Democrats Alligator in swampwill oppose everything Donald Trump supports and Republican leaders will plead powerlessness to push Democrats to the brink for their inane grandstanding.

Regardless of what happens in the ongoing debate over DACA, immigration, the federal budget and keeping the government open (even if Congress agrees on something the “crisis” will come around again the next time a budget needs to be passed), one uncomfortable but concrete fact remains unchanged: the United States is deeply in debt.

As of late last week the national debt stood at over $20.6 trillion. If you haven’t yet seen the United States debt clock it’s an eye-opener to behold as the numbers inflate literally before your eyes. Depending on which party holds majorities in Congress and control of the White House politicians sometimes mention the mounting debt; but is anyone serious about how much we’re charging to our children’s credit card to be paid off by someone at some point?

At least one conservative doesn’t think so.

Senator Rand Paul wrote last week in the Washington Examiner, “Republicans say they want to cut domestic spending, but they won’t because they’ve made a deal with the Democrats — if Democrats vote to raise military spending, Republicans will vote to raise domestic spending. The dirty little secret is that all spending goes up, all the time, and both parties are to blame.

“Both sides want to spend money, but for different pet causes. The compromise: Both will agree to increase rather than decrease spending. We will once again move in the wrong direction on spending and debt because of a corrupt bargain among swamp-dwelling politicians.

“It’s shameful, and people should be outraged. It appears that nobody, or virtually nobody, in Congress really cares about the debt or our children’s future. Sure, Democrats claim to care when it is a convenient excuse to oppose tax cuts, but they are noticeably quiet about the debt when it comes to spending bills.”

Paul’s words ring too true. In fairness, with the exception of a few token voices (like Paul’s) Republicans don’t seem to care about the debt either. The budget caps Paul referred to were put in place after the “sequester” compromise in 2011 “negotiated” by teams led by now Speaker Paul Ryan and Democrat Senator Patty Murray – but neither party was serious about sticking to the limits at the time and they’re certainly not any closer to a great awakening on spending today.

I myself have worried less about the debt since Donald Trump won the presidency -- figuring of anyone, the longtime real estate developer would understand debt and how to deal with it. It also seemed clear the Republican tax cuts might result in a little short term deficit pain but would ultimately serve to reduce borrowing in the long run through economic growth (which always results in increased tax revenues).

But the noticeable lack of urgent attention from the political class to the exploding deficit is troubling. The recent hubbub over DACA never even mentioned the current and future fiscal consequences of legalizing millions of illegal aliens – both parties are eager to spend, spend, spend now, now, now, borrow (or steal) from the social security trust fund (or China) to pay for it, feed the ravenous special interests and worry about the aftereffects later.

Face it, Americans have been talking about debts for decades but little or nothing’s been done about it. The Democrats blame military spending for the bloat and the Republicans point to domestic outlays. For once, they’re both right. The government spends far too much money regardless of where it’s directed to. As Paul suggested above, someday the politicians on both sides of the aisle will be forced to come to grips with the gluttony. The interest on the debt alone will swallow up such a huge percentage of the tax receipts that there won’t be money left for anything else but entitlements. What then?

Realist fiscal conservatives like Paul understand the military budget must be on the cutting table along with everything else in the federal portfolio (including entitlements). Every so often the media loves to report on hammers and toilet seats that the military pays big money for but the real drivers of cost in the armed services are expensive overseas commitments that demand high dollar yet yield little in terms of visible tangible benefits.

National security comes at a high price, we all realize it. But how much is too much? Better not ask John McCain or Lindsey Graham the question – they’d drain the treasury in an instant to station a United States serviceman in every hellhole on earth (and there are a lot of ‘em, aren’t there?).

Likewise Democrats love dumping billions into domestic spending programs with little thought towards accountability or means of measuring gains. The Great Society’s “war on poverty” did not significantly improve the standard of living for America’s poor despite trillions devoted to welfare initiatives ranging from mortgage assistance to school lunches to “midnight basketball” under the Clinton administration.

It all makes you wonder – how did it get this bad?

There was a time when folks blamed congressional earmarks, the special local district projects leadership throws into bills at the last minute to entice members to vote “aye” to pass them. To his credit former Speaker John Boehner led the effort to do away with them – probably the only successful thing he accomplished to curtail spending and special interest corruption.

Oddly enough there are those who now suggest the concept of earmarks should be revived to help break the logjam of legislation in Congress – you know, add a little political honey to the pot to make the foul brew smell better. Senator Mike Lee for one thinks it’s a bad idea to even think about resurrecting the “swamp thing” (earmarks).

Lee wrote last week at the Washington Examiner, “The alternative system would be one of transparency, decentralization, and accountability. Representatives and senators would write legislation collaboratively, in the open, forging popular compromises and taking tough votes. Anytime someone says, ‘What we really need to do is get everyone in a room to hammer out the details,’ remember, the Constitution provides for two such rooms: the House and Senate chambers. The reason Congress doesn’t work today is that both party establishments are afraid of the electoral consequences of the public actually seeing a free-wheeling debate they can’t control.

“The path of transparency and accountability would require members to do the hard work of learning about issues and forming and defending coherent positions. It would be far easier to just let leadership do all the thinking for them and accept the occasional earmark they can tout to constituents back home.”

Yes it would be easier for our poor overburdened elected lawmakers, but as Lee observed, the legislative process currently doesn’t function largely because it isn’t even being used. As the recent series of fights over continuing resolutions demonstrates congressmen and senators are all-but forced to vote for (or against) these all-encompassing omnibus budget bills because leadership threatens to punish them if they don’t.

Congress is so dysfunctional and government has grown so large that the notion of individual appropriations bills no longer appears to exist. Instead, everything is dumped into one large continuing resolution drawn up by whichever party leaders are in the majority. There’s precious little progress made in reducing spending because there just isn’t time to consider singular disbursements in budgets that are hastily rolled over from year-to-year.

How else do you think we still have wasteful and duplicative programs and things like ethanol subsidies and other forms of corporate welfare that no one (outside of local interests) seems to favor?

Lawmakers from both parties decry the broken system and beg for a return to “regular order” so they can do the jobs they were sent to Washington to perform. Will it get better anytime soon?

Don’t bet the house on it…or the senate either, for that matter.

President Trump is trying to reform the system and get things moving but as his first year demonstrated it’s an uphill slog at best. Some say his second year will be even tougher to make headway in draining the swamp.

Longtime political pro Michael Barone wrote at National Review, “Trump has not yet delivered on what the Wall Street Journal’s Gerald Seib correctly identifies as his signature issues in his 2015–16 campaign — immigration, trade, and infrastructure. And it’s far from certain how and whether he will do so…

“Then there’s the question of whether Democrats want to be seen cooperating with Trump on anything. Certainly, their party’s base doesn’t. Many Democrats seem determined not just to win the next election but to overturn the most recent one. Put that together with Trump’s chaotic negotiating style and considerable ignorance of specifics and you can see how his second year could turn out worse than the first.”

Trump’s supposed “ignorance of specifics” isn’t going to matter a hoot in the overall battle to pass big ideas in 2018 and his “chaotic negotiating style” is only used by his enemies in the media and Democrat Party as a justification to stonewall on government reforms that conceivably could help Republicans in this year’s election.

Barone’s opinion should be respected but it looks as though he’s falling into the same trap as so many others who have been mired knee-deep in Washington swamp ooze for decades. Trump isn’t the wildcard here; in mediation settings the parties to a dispute will agree on a solution -- or they won’t. It ain’t the mediator’s fault if he can’t get them to concur.

President Trump should not let the Democrats off the hook. If America’s elected officials are ever going to address the nation’s issues – including the escalating national debt – they need to stop making excuses and face reality. Neither Trump nor the process are the problem – it’s DC’s swamp mentality that’s holding everybody back.

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