Policy Or Ethics?

As each of President-elect Donald Trump’s cabinet picks get their day in the sunshine before Senate Committees, the recurring questions before these committees involve the nominee’s policy direction and personal ethics.  Is the nominee free of obvious conflicts and conflicts of interest? And, what direction (what policies) would the nominee pursue if confirmed?

With Republicans holding sufficient votes to confirm any and all of Mr Trump’s selections, one wonders what purpose these hearings serve.

The Secretaries of State and Defense seemed qualified, free of conflicts, and ready to perform these important roles. Arguably one could question Rex Tilleson’s qualifications since he has no prior government experience but he was the CEO of the world’s largest corporation and there is a large, in place, civil service State Department staff ready to advise. Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, breezed through her hearing the easiest of all the nominees. Since there is little controversial about Transportation, other than the billions ($$$) an infrastructure renewal program might create, the Senate Committee treated her with kid gloves.

Betsy DeVos, Tom Price, and Scott Pruitt, nominees for Education, Health and Human Services, and the EPA, on the other hand, presented potential red flags. Each of them in prior public statements have strongly rejected current policies and accepted science.

Ms DeVos is an advocate for vouchers, Mr Price has been a harsh critic of the Affordable Care Act, and Mr Pruitt has questioned the validity of global warming.

The questioning of Ms DeVos revealed (IMO) a wholly unqualified nominee who is intent upon championing the use of vouchers to funnel public tax funding to religious schools. Ms DeVos is a self proclaimed evangelical, and who has never herself attended public schools and chose not to send her own children to public schools. This woman has an agenda.

Mr Price will be charged with implementing the “replace” part of “repeal and replace Obamacare”. Why was any time wasted on questioning his stock trades when there is still almost nothing known about what President Trump will ask Secretary Price to implement? While trading stock upon which the Senate is about to vote is unethical, everyone else in Congress seems to have done it.

But the “replace Obamacare” may also lead to “privatize Medicare” and to “block grant Medicaid”. Is Mr Price going to be comfortable leaving millions of Americans either without healthcare coverage, with second class coverage, or just the best coverage money can buy? (If you have no money, you get….)

Mr Pruitt is most likely qualified to run EPA, if only based upon past government experience. Which direction he will lead the EPA will be a matter of Trump Administration policy and it may be wise, neutral, or dangerously flawed. As the nominee, Price will initially be bound to follow existing law.

On ethics, questions have been raised about Pruitt’s close ties to the Oil and Gas Industries where he has championed Industry positions while receiving large campaign donations from these groups. Unethical? Or has everyone else in Congress done the same with donations from other groups?

These confirmation hearings have shed more light upon how far from “advise and consent”, the confirmation process has drifted. With Congress so conflicted with the need to raise obscene amounts of campaign funding, questioning the nominees appears too often like the pot calling the kettle black.

With respect to policy, elections have consequences. Republicans and President-elect Trump won, and now our Country’s governance is in their hands.

  • Vouchers should be a non-starter if only based upon the first Amendment.
  • If the Trump Administration steps back from the less than perfect Obamacare coverage and insures less Americans, or worse attempts to change Medicare or Medicaid, in two and four years voters will fix that mistake.
  • The EPA might represent the most significant trap for the new Administration. Sophisticated deemphasis which skilled politicians like Scott Pruitt can apply to daily EPA activities, over time, can make the Flint, Michigan lead in water tragedy look mild. Voters will also feel this impact, maybe as early as four years.

No one will remember in four years that Betsy DeVos donated $200 million to Republican candidates, or that Tom Price bought and sold stock while deliberating on legislation, or that Scott Pruitt, while taking large donations from the Oil and Gas Industry, sued the EPA over regulation limits targeting those industries.

What Americans will know is whether education has improved or not, whether their healthcare is affordable and adequate, or whether the air, water, and ground are more polluted or less so.

With respect to these nominees, there is no reason that they could not be successful. Success will not be measured, however, how many Republican check list items are accomplished, but rather by the state of life four years from now.

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