The Plagiarism Caucus

Matthew Freeman

Dec. 21, 2016

My wife is a high school history teacher, and pretty much every year, she has at least one story to tell about a student lifting some significant chunk of text from a website and using it in a paper without attribution. The kids get caught by those nifty anti-plagiarism search engines teachers use, which are about as heartless and automatic as those unmanned, and frankly, unsportsmanlike, speed cameras that dot my neighborhood streets.

I suppose it’s easier to accidently plagiarize in the age of the Internet, what with cutting and pasting. So I have a smidgen of sympathy for my wife’s 9th graders when they get busted because I wonder if their academic sins were accidental.

I’m willing to extend no such presumption of innocence to the House Freedom Caucus. Apparently, not content to misappropriate the word “freedom,” they also are heavy into borrowing other folks’ work and claiming it as their own, at least according to USA Today. The paper’s Paul Singer reports that “large chunks of the ‘special report’” the Caucus put out last week targeting more than 200 health, safety, environmental, and other rules they’d like the Trump administration to purge ASAP “were lifted from other places without attribution.”

Apparently, they borrowed text from the Heritage Foundation website, “policy papers and letters from industry lobbying groups,” and “an entire paragraph from a Politico news” story.

Caucus Chair Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) defended his team’s cut-and-paste job by saying the report was “merely a compilation of rules and regulations … to be used as a quick reference point – not an academic document.” No argument here about its academic merit. Like my wife’s 9th graders after they’ve been busted, he went on to say that they’d planned to include sourcing, but they’d run out of time.

A couple things about the tale are telling. First, take note that this most vocal group of congressional Republicans, many of whom rode the Tea Party’s outsider wave to power, freely admit that they’re outsourcing their ideological wish list to Washington insiders – the Heritage Foundation and industry lobbyists, for example. So much for draining the swamp. While the incoming administration has the media distracted with the President-elect’s various Twitter indiscretions and the occasional ham-handed, pre-inaugural foreign policy malpractice, the hard right-wing in Washington is preparing to treat Donald Trump as an empty vessel waiting to be filled with their hard line wish list of warmed-over proposals.

Second, they’ve done so little vetting of the items on their own wish list that they can’t muster their own words to describe what they’re asking for. Apparently, if it’s a regulation that a right-winger somewhere opposes, the Freedom Caucus is willing to include it on its hit list.

Normally such “reports” from the Freedom Caucus can be dismissed as the intemperate tantrums of petulant back-benchers. But, with congressional Republicans planning to deploy the little-used Congressional Review Act (CRA) early in the next session to eliminate recently finalized Obama administration regulatory actions, the hit list it outlines carries serious policy implications. Several of the rules it targets could be easily disappeared under the CRA’s expedited procedures. The years of study and considered judgment by agency experts that have been poured into developing these rules would be snuffed out in an instant, motivated by little more than the thoughtless, knee-jerk opposition to regulation that the Freedom Caucus plagiarizers see as their mission.

As if that weren’t bad enough, the benefits those regulations would deliver to working families and struggling communities would never be realized. When policymakers make it a point to scream in our faces how little they care for the important task of governance, we need to listen.

Here’s the kicker: One of the founders of the Caucus, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), has just been nominated to be President-elect Trump’s director of the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB), where he’d supervise the administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) – the so-called regulatory czar. It looks like he’s bringing a destructive to-do list with him.

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