Are Republicans Draining or Filling the Swamp?
On March 9, 2010, Democratic Party speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said, "We have to pass the bill so that you can find out what is in it." Pelosi's infamous words referred to the 2,300-page Affordable Care Act, now more commonly known as "Obamacare."
Democratic leadership, anticipating voter backlash, rushed to cram their controversial health care bill through Congress before the 2010 midterm election. Democrats were in such a hurry to send the bill to President Barack Obama, they didn't have time to read it.
Obama signed his "legacy bill" on March 23, 2010. Eight months later, Democrats paid a steep price at the polls. The Tea Party shockwave that resulted is the biggest turnover election since the Great Depression. Republicans gained 63 seats in the House of Representatives, six in the Senate, and 680 in state legislative races.
Before the historic 2010 election, the Democrats held a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate and control of the House. Since 2010, Democrats have remained the minority party in the House, and in 2014, they lost control of the Senate. Two years later, voters put Republican Donald Trump in the White House. After witnessing firsthand the Obamacare fiasco, voters elected Trump to "drain the swamp."
The passage of Obamacare was a case study in D.C. swamp culture. First, Democrats crafted the legislation behind closed doors with ample lobbyist input and special-interest involvement. Second, Democrats did not read the bill before voting on it. Third (and most importantly), Democrats passed Obamacare in a hasty and disingenuous manner.
So have Republicans learned from the Obamacare debacle? Is the swamp being drained? Unfortunately, no.
The congressional Republicans' $1.3-trillion omnibus spending bill epitomizes the very worst of D.C. swamp culture. The bill heaps another massive amount of debt on America's credit card, presumably to be paid by future generations. The national debt now exceeds $21 trillion, and there's no reason to believe that better, saner days lie ahead. Despite congressional Republicans' campaign promises to rein in spending, $1-trillion deficits are projected to return by 2022 according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The Tea Party wave that thrust Republicans into power eight years ago was based on a simple notion: the U.S. government spending binge must end to avoid economic Armageddon. Apparently, the more things change, the more things stay the same in the D.C. swamp.
In a cruel twist of irony, on March 23, 2018 (exactly eight years to the day after Obamacare was signed into law), President Donald Trump signed a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill.
Republicans claim that because they have only 51 votes in the Senate, they must increase spending to gain Democrats' support. This false premise serves only to justify Republicans' fiscal irresponsibility and unwillingness to drain the swamp.
The bloated, pork-filled omnibus bill is a complete rebuke of the Republicans' purported values of limited government and fiscal restraint. The GOP has abandoned its position as fiscal hawks. Republicans are now complicit with Democrats in burdening future generations with today's wanton spending.
By passing the omnibus bill, Republicans managed to repeat all three mistakes that led to the demise of Democrats after they gambled on Obamacare. First, Republicans crafted the bill behind closed doors and filled it with goodies to "buy votes." Second, there's absolutely no way legislators read the bill in full before they voted on it. Third, Republican leadership pressed the omnibus bill even though it violated the GOP's core beliefs and campaign promises made to voters.
One of the big differences between those on the political left and those on the right is that Democrats tend to be outcome-oriented and Republicans generally are principle-oriented. This does not mean that Democrats lack principles; it simply means they more likely utilize "ends justify the means" reasoning.
In 2010, 2014, and 2016, GOP voters rushed to the polls because they vehemently opposed the blatant "ends justify the means" nature of Obamacare. To make matters worse, Democrats lost credibility with voters after Obama's oft-repeated promise, "If you like your health care plan, you'll be able to keep your health care plan," was crowned "Lie of the Year" in 2013.
The $64,000 question is, will the voters who put the GOP in power to thwart Obama's agenda and drain the swamp turn their ire on congressional Republicans for passing the omnibus spending legislation and failing to repeal (and replace) Obamacare?
The 2018 midterm elections will be the first bellwether of the Trump era. The GOP has a tall task in November: can the party restore voters' confidence that the party truly stands for limited government and fiscal sanity after the omnibus betrayal? We'll find out soon enough.
Chris Talgo (CTalgo@heartland.org) is an editorial assistant at The Heartland Institute and writer for Heartland's American Exceptionalism website. Lennie Jarratt (LJarratt@heartland.org) is a project manager for The Heartland Institute.