How Do We Drain the Swamp?

By Mississippi Center for Public Policy
April 2, 2024

America is now six months away from a Presidential election.  If current polls are correct and Donald Trump comes out ahead in the key battleground states, we could soon see a conservative in the White House, and a conservative-controlled Senate and House.

It is one thing to gain power.  It is quite another to know what to do with it.  Conservatives who try to run the federal government without a clear strategy in place soon end up being run by the federal government.  Why is this so?
The administrative state, with its vast alphabet soup of federal agencies, is fundamentally un-conservative.  Some might even say anti-conservative.
That is not to say that there is some sort of Deep State conspiracy against conservatives.  (Federal officials struggle to issue visas or approve new medicines on a timely basis. I highly doubt they are competent enough to engage in conspiracies). 

No, the problem is the mindset of those that work for the administrative state.  Or, what the French call “déformation professionnelle.” 
Those that work for big government bureaucracies tend to favor more government.  If your career is spent working for a federal agency, you will perhaps see federal fiat as the answer, whatever the question.
Many of those that work for the government are very smart.  Smart enough, in fact, to fall for the conceit that you can successfully engineer social and economic outcomes from above. 

Now that Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion has become the official ideology of America’s public institutions, federal officials likely find it easier to implement “diversity strategies” and talk about “microaggressions” than deliver competent government.

Being part of a national bureaucracy in Washington makes you more inclined to want to work closely with supranational bureaucracies such as the UN, WHO, or the EU.
What can an incoming conservative administration do about all this?  It is not enough to instruct the administrative state to govern differently.  We need a plan to re-wire the administrative state itself.  Here’s how:

1. Find the Right People.
Donald Trump’s decision to appoint Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court proved to be one of the most consequential things he has done.  As a result, the US Supreme Court now has a conservative majority for the first time in over half a century. 

Trump did not appoint the right people to the Supreme Court because he happened to know them.  It was the Federalist Society that identified and vetted suitable candidates for him.
I am delighted to be (a small) part of a project run by the Heritage Foundation and others to help identify the right people not so much for judicial appointments, but for positions across government.  Unless conservatives find the right people to install in the myriad of federal agencies, those that work in those agencies will nominate their own and little will change.

2. Shrink the Federal Machine. 
Argentina’s new President Milei almost halved the number of government departments in the week after he took office.  U.S. conservatives should do something similar. 

Do we really need a US Department of Education (created in 1980) or federal Housing department (1965)?  Surely education and housing are matters that can be left to each state? 
Why stop there?  There are currently 438 US federal agencies and sub-agencies.  Conservatives should go full Milei on them.

3. Control the spending.
What is the single biggest threat to the United States?  It’s not China or Islamism.  It is the ballooning national debt.  The US national debt is now growing by $1 trillion every 100 days.
Conservatives urgently need to bring federal spending under control. 

Remember that kerfuffle a few months back when Rep Kevin McCarty tried and failed to be elected House Speaker dozens of times?  One of the objections that the conservative refuseniks had was the fact that Congress did not seem to control federal spending.
The process by which Congress approves federal budgets is far too convoluted.  One committee approves agriculture budgets, another defense, and so on.  This makes it easier for various vested interests to ensure that their preferred spending items get approved.
We need to return to the principle that there is some form of unified Congressional budgetary oversight.  This is the only chance of restoring Congressional control over the administrative state’s spending.

4. Return authority to the states.
The 10th Amendment clearly states that “powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
Since the days of Woodrow Wilson, there has been a creeping coup that has seen federal agencies, abetted by the Supreme Court, usurp the primacy of the states. Until now.

In a little noticed ruling in 2022, in West Virginia v. the Environmental Protection Agency, the Supreme Court essentially said that a federal agency could not presume to make policy the way the EPA was trying to.  The ruling puts a question mark over the presumption that Congress has delegated major political and economic questions to executive agencies.
Conservatives need to build on this, and other similar rulings, to push back against decades of self-aggrandizement by federal agencies. 

How often do conservative voters vote for conservative leaders, but end up with more soft-left statism?  I would argue that this has been a constant feature of U.S. politics for over half a century, with a brief break from business as usual when Ronald Reagan was in the White House for 8 years in the 1980s.
Unless we are to see more of the same, we need to ensure that if and when conservatives gain control of the federal government, they use their one chance to achieve fundamental, strategic change to the way America is run. There may never be another.
Our aim must not be just to oust liberals, or even to install a particular leader.  Our goal should be to renew America by overturning the incremental coup that has created in Washington DC an administrative state that our Founders never envisioned and never sanctioned.


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