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Instead of Draining the Swamp, the GOP is Greasing the Wheels

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Tags Big Government

11/15/2016

[Author note: On Wednesday, Paul Ryan stopped the proposal to eliminate the earmark ban.]

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Donald Trump may have found electoral success campaigning as a political outsider ready to “drain the swamp,” but his first week as President-elect indicates that a Trump administration may prove to be a stimulus for action in Washington. In stark contrast to the legislative gridlock we’ve seen since the 2010 midterms, now that the GOP has full control of all three branches of government, we should be prepared for of flurry of legislative activity to emerge from the beltway.

This would explain not only Trump’s hire of RNC chair Reince Priebus as his chief of staff, an establishment bridge to Congress for the former populist candidate, but also the news today that Republicans will be voting on eliminating the ban on earmarks that was put in place in 2011. This would be a move enthusiastically celebrated in Washington by those who consider legislative inaction a truly terrible thing, since earmarks were among the most effective ways to bribe politicians to support bills they otherwise wouldn’t. In exchange for a wavering member’s support, an earmark ensured that their home district would receive a lucrative project. Earmarks were responsible for the infamous Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere” among a variety of other examples of absurd government waste.

The ability to cut such deals within the legislature is likely to be particularly attractive to a president like Trump. After all, the man is not only the author of The Art of the Deal, he is proudly non-ideological, and comes to Washington with an ambitious first 100 days plan. If he can buy support by giving a congressman the money to build an airport named after themselves, the Donald is exactly the sort of man who would have no problem doing so.

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Now none of this is to say there aren’t sound defenses of the earmark process. As Congressman Ron Paul has pointed out, earmarks give the legislature more control over Federal spending at the expense of the discretion of the Executive branch and its multitude of agencies. They are also a part of, and not an addition to, the Federal budget and do not themselves increase total government spending. If Congress was full of members like Ron Paul, there would be little harm in the practice. Unfortunately, a return to earmarks will likely coincide with members of Congress finding new justifications for Federal projects, which may be part of the reason we’ve seen a sharp decline in Federal discretionary spending since 2011.

Unfortunately there are other warning signs that a Trump administration will follow the Republican Party tradition of expanding Federal budgets. Along with his campaign promises to expand government healthcare, and his recent renewed endorsement of Obamacare’s costly guaranteed coverage of those with pre-existing medical conditions, Trump has consistently advocated for more military spending.  

Further, during his victory speech last week, he outlined an ambitious public works vision, promising to spend money fixing “inner cities and rebuild our highways, bridges, tunnels, airports, schools, hospitals” and other forms of infrastructure, which was music to Nancy Pelosi’s ears on an otherwise disappointing night. While Trump’s campaign outlined an intriguing proposal designed to pay for such projects largely from private investment — perhaps he read some Walter Block while on the campaign trail — it will be interesting to see if he follows through with that now that he’s in office. If not, the earmark process is likely to come in handy to win over Republican legislatures that have stood in the way of Barack Obama’s own infrastructure proposals.

This is not to say all the news from Trump’s victory has been all bad. The president-elect continues to describe the Iraq War as a disaster, he continues to talk up tax cuts — especially for American businesses, there are strong signs that the disastrous Dodd-Frank Act could be picked apart, and, best of all, he’s still not Hillary Clinton.

But anyone hoping to see Washington D.C. withered away under a Trump administration is likely to be disappointed. Bigly. 

Tho Bishop directs the Mises Institute's social media marketing (e.g., twitter, facebook, instagram), and can assist with questions from the press. Contact: email; twitter; facebook.

Tho is an assistant editor for the Mises Wire, and can assist with questions from the press. Prior to working for the Mises Institute, he served as Deputy Communications Director for the House Financial Services Committee. His articles have been featured in The Federalist, the Daily Caller, and Business Insider.

Note: The views expressed on Mises.org are not necessarily those of the Mises Institute.
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