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Outsiders vs. Insiders: To drain the swamp Trump needs good people to work the pumps

Is President Trump’s swamp drain hopelessly clogged?

For the sake of the country let’s hope not, though the pace of change is lagging behind other presidents simply because there aren’t enough personnel in place at federal agencies to foster the necessary house cleaning – or Trump drain the swampswamp draining, if you prefer.

We’re a little less than four months into the Trump administration and nearly all of the largest federal agencies still only have one or two Trump nominated political appointees in place. It’s reached a point where the president himself appears content to let career civil servants and in some cases Obama holdovers jog unhindered on the hamster wheels of government.

That’s no way to make change happen in the swamp. As the old saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Battling the federal bureaucracy is turning out to be no different.

The Editors of the Washington Examiner report, “At the end of Trump's first 100 days, only 27 of 556 political appointments had been confirmed, as compared with 69 for former President Barack Obama and 35 for former President George W. Bush.

“If blame is appropriate, there's plenty of it to go around. The administration blames Democrats for slow-rolling nominees. But Democrats and some Republicans counter that the White House isn't sending names quickly enough. And a handful of nominees have taken themselves out of contention, mostly because of their various business interests. Since the president likes hiring business leaders, that's proving no small problem.”

If you’re wondering just how bad the staffing problem truly is I recommend reading the entire lengthy Washington Examiner report. For example, new Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta only took office a couple weeks ago having been confirmed on day 98 of the Trump administration. Because Acosta’s there virtually by himself, he alone needs to quickly decide whether to fight a federal court’s stay of an Obama rule vastly expanding overtime pay.

These important matters don’t wait and just because the decision-makers are new isn’t going to engender much sympathy where the country’s business community is concerned. Obama and his minions did everything they could to make doing business so costly that the economy effectively couldn’t grow – and there’s a lot of work to be done in undoing the damage.

If you don’t have the workers in place to drain the swamp it isn’t going to get done, period. To expand the metaphor, people are needed to attach the hoses, prep the holding trucks and man the pumps of the swamp draining apparatus. If there’s been one sphere where Trump appears to be neglectful it’s in choosing the right conservatives to help him accomplish his mission.

As pointed out by conservative leader Richard Viguerie, the Washington establishment is likely to blame.

To make matters worse, the administration is about to lose one of its best tools to fight the battle of the swamp.

Sarah Westwood of the Washington Examiner explains, “President Trump and his team have touted their extensive use of the Congressional Review Act to roll back Obama-era regulations as a major accomplishment of the president's first 100 days in office. But their window for using this legislative tool is set to close, and Republicans must find new ways to erase rules put in place by Trump's predecessor.

“The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to undo regulations enacted by the executive branch. Congress had used the obscure law just once before Trump's tenure. Lawmakers succeeded in putting 13 bills on Trump's desk to overrule Obama administration rules this year.”

It’s true; there’ve been a lot of positive things accomplished in a relatively short time through using the CRA, an area where the Republicans in Congress and Trump seem to be on the same page. Measures passed by the House under the CRA are filibuster-proof in the Senate which has led to expedited action on many issues.

But just because the Congressional Review Act is about to slip away doesn’t mean Congress is permanently saddled with the leftover dictates from Obama’s regulatory shock troops. Members can still use the legislative process to pass new laws or alter existing ones and there’s always the appropriations process as a weapon of last resort.

Theoretically Congress can refuse to okay the money to pay for enforcement of the Obama rules, something they should be doing in every case. But the Republican leadership has never shown much interest or ability in attacking the opposition through such means and there’s no reason to believe they’ll wise up to it now.

The current budget process doesn’t help; when funding for all government departments is lumped into one huge omnibus bill it makes it extremely difficult to cut anything from individual agencies. There just isn’t time. This is yet another area where regular order for appropriations would improve government -- but it isn’t getting done.

The president’s main anti-regulation weapon going forward will likely be ordering agencies to review borderline rules, just as he did in directing the EPA to take a good hard look at the extremely controversial Waters of the United States rule. This Obama-era decree literally made it harder to drain real swamps…and needs to be reexamined for its gross abuse of the God-given fundamental right to own and improve property.

Such regulatory reinvention will not only be vital for helping to improve the economy, it’ll allow for the types of infrastructure build-up President Trump envisions. As of now, Trump’s promise to ramp-up work on the nation’s foundations is caught up in the logjam of Congress.

Alexis Simendinger of Real Clear Politics reports, “The Office of Management and Budget is expected to release Trump’s first complete budget blueprint on May 23. And while the health care debate shifts to the Senate, the ultimate contours of the president’s tax reform package – also in outline form – could depend on whether new health care law, if enacted, frees up resources he hopes to shift to offset lost revenues projected from lower tax rates.

“The infrastructure package – initially described as a mix of federal funding paid for with new revenues from ‘energy production,’ plus private investments, backed by federal permitting relaxation, regulatory relief, and tax sweeteners –appeared this week to be a work in progress, despite administration assurances that it is ready.”

Anyone who followed the 2016 campaign closely knows how important infrastructure is to President Trump. Unlike other politicians who give lip-service to an issue that virtually everyone agrees upon – that America’s roads, bridges, electric grid, airports, etc. need a lot of work – Trump intends to do something about it.

As a lifelong real estate developer Trump is used to dreaming big and building bigger. His buildings are first-rate and his golf country clubs are distinctive in addition. Naturally the “builder” in Trump believes he can transfer that kind of know-how to fixing the federal transportation system as well.

Like other areas of the “swamp,” common sense says Trump will only be able to provide noticeable improvements if the system itself is radically redone, which includes the approval process, dealing with unions, statutory mandates (such as affirmative action hiring) and other roadblocks concocted within the bubble atmosphere that is Washington DC.

Having visited the Hoover Dam a few years ago I surmised such a project could never be built today – labor laws alone would kill it before ground was even broken. But somehow if Trump is to make real headway in infrastructure in the manner he’s talked about, such Hoover dam-like thinking, entrepreneurship and quick decision-making will be required.

The federal courts will be involved too as a lot of these projects will likely be bogged down with stall tactics by leftist-funded environmental groups opposed to overturning even one shovel-full of soil or the removal of a single tree.

Nobody said it would be easy, but draining any kind of swamp never is. The creatures in this case are even more formidable than the scaly reptiles in a real bog. Their weapons are federal statutes, regulations and the court system as well as an army of self-interested politicians who will say anything to sway public opinion against change.

It appears to be a monumental task, indeed.

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