During his extraordinary run for the presidency, Donald Trump vowed again and again to "drain the swamp" and rid our government of corruption, waste, and insider-dealing.
These promises are blatantly laughable in many respects. From the various small-time grafts and crookery of Scott Pruitt and Tom Price to the full-blown criminal conviction of Paul Manafort and guilty pleas of the two Michaels (Flynn and Cohen, the latter of whom directly implicated Trump himself in a crime), the president's promise to drain the swamp is clearly beyond broken.
Trump is not the man to clean up Washington. He's too much of a mess himself.
But the swamp has always been about more than the prominent people surrounding the president. Draining the swamp was also supposed to be about ending the all-too-common corruption of government policy.
Indeed, GOP lawmakers have long intoned against "waste, fraud, and abuse," claiming the corruption, bloat, and thoughtlessness of big government represents a gross injustice to U.S. taxpayers. Are they ready to drain the swamp and be responsible stewards of public money and trust?
As but one example: This week, party leaders decided to sidestep any attempt at farm bill subsidy reform — efforts that would have limited the amount of taxpayer dollars that go to the nation's wealthiest farmers — so that they could instead focus on putting additional work requirements on the bill's food stamp beneficiaries. Those requirements could reduce benefits by $9.2 billion between 2018 and 2028, and cause as many as 2 million food stamp recipients to see their benefits reduced or eliminated.
Let's be clear about what this means: Our government is literally taking food out of the mouths of America's poorest citizens to lavish excessive taxpayer money on the rich.
The top 10 percent of the nation's wealthiest farms receive 77 percent of the farm bill's commodity subsidies. Meanwhile, as Caroline Kitchens wrote for the R Street Institute earlier this year:
To be eligible for [food stamps], Americans must show their gross monthly household income is below 130 percent of the poverty line. For a family of three in 2018, that means making less than $2,213 a month, for an annual income of just $26,600 a year.
By contrast, farmers are able to rake in taxpayer handouts regardless of the size and profitability of their operation. The federal crop insurance program subsidizes, on average, 62 percent of farmers' insurance premiums, with no means test whatsoever. This allows the largest farm operations to receive virtually unlimited subsidies. Owners of mega-farms have received more than $1 million in subsidies from taxpayers. [R Street]
What kind of swamp draining is this? The Republican Party wants to make it harder for America's poorest citizens to receive basic food stamp support — but they have no problem dishing out millions in taxpayer money, no strings attached, to the nation's largest agribusinesses.
Trump promised to make things different. So did his fellow lawmakers. Since the last farm bill passed in 2013, a bipartisan coalition of libertarians, environmental activists, and free marketeers have been working to cap subsidy payments and insurance premiums. These unlikely allies seemed to agree that the government should be spending less on its wealthiest citizens — especially when that spending entrenches a system of agriculture that is broken and ecologically harmful, and institutionalizes a crony capitalism that prevents small and beginning farmers from ever getting their start.
But those efforts all failed.
Corruption, graft, self-dealing, and grovelingly doling out lavish government gifts to industries with the best lobbyists and biggest campaign donations — this has long been par for the course in Washington. For decades, Washington politicians have funded wealthy farmers' business risk and helped their bottom line. This corporate welfare has become so entrenched — on both sides of the aisle — it's almost impossible to oppose. Ag lobbyists have rhetoric on their side, after all: No matter the millions their clients might make, most Americans believe farm bill recipients to be kind, vulnerable, mom-and-pop sorts of figures — not multi-millionaires residing in New York City.
The farm bill is just one item in Washington's vast portfolio that demands reform. There are hundreds of other worthy causes, too. But as long as Trump and his entrenched, elitist colleagues lead the GOP, not an ounce of muck will be drained from the swamp that is our nation's capital.