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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

January 16: Trump Senior Official Says Furlough the Beast

For the most part the Trump administration’s public line is that the current partial government shutdown is not as big a deal as his desired border wall, but that to the extent it’s inconveniencing people it’s the fault of congressional Democrats. But that’s not the only administration voice we are hearing, as I wrote about at New York.

Yesterday at the Daily Caller, however, a sinister, anonymous senior Trump administration official offered a different rationale for continuing the shutdown indefinitely:

“As one of the senior officials working without a paycheck, a few words of advice for the president’s next move at shuttered government agencies: lock the doors, sell the furniture, and cut them down.

“Federal employees are starting to feel the strain of the shutdown. I am one of them. But for the sake of our nation, I hope it lasts a very long time, till the government is changed and can never return to its previous form.”

This latest Anonymous goes on in that vein for paragraph after fatuous paragraph, weaving a right-wing fantasy vision of lazy, evil bureaucrats sabotaging the noble president and his patriotic political appointees. Without a shred of documentation, this very Trump-y individual stipulates that 80 percent of the employees in her/his agency, and apparently all of the furloughed employees, do no work at all because they cannot be fired, and conspire with Congress (the Congress that until 11 days ago was controlled by Republicans) to create and maintain worthless programs. Thus, although it will impose sacrifices on the handful of essential employees currently working without pay, an extended shutdown is necessary to prove to the American people that the only government they need is the “free market night watchman” state “our founders envisioned.”

But what strikes the reader most about this cri de coeur for an indefinite shutdown is how nicely it fits into the annals of gutless conservative strategies for shrinking government indirectly and dishonestly. The most famous was the late-20th-century “starve the beast” strategy, which meant cutting taxes and deliberately engineering large federal budget deficits in order to force spending cuts (ideally by liberals) that conservatives couldn’t or wouldn’t propose straightforwardly. I once called this “the fiscal equivalent of a bottomless crack pipe” for Republicans, because it enabled them to tell themselves and their “base” they were doing brave things like attacking entitlement programs while never actually taking the political heat for it. Similarly, the Daily Caller’s correspondent wants to use the essentially mindless vehicle of a partial government shutdown to do what Trump and Republican pols don’t have the courage to propose. You could call it a “furlough the beast” strategy.

The supposition that “[m]ost Americans will not miss non-essential government functions” is already proving to be erroneous — unless “most Americans” is meant to exclude those who might want safe food or adjudication of tax disputes or federal-guaranteed mortgages or any number of other services and benefits that would be strained or eliminated in an extended shutdown. That’s aside from the fact that “essential employees” can’t be expected to toil without pay perpetually, as this “senior official” apparently has the wherewithal to do.

In the end, this op-ed may just be an ideological self-indulgence for those who always want to believe that the government Americans keep voting to maintain is just one gimmick away from vanishing. But at a time when the president is twisting in the wind, unable to figure out how to deal with a government shutdown that he stumbled into after a temper tantrum, this is one whisper in his ear we don’t need. Trump has already retweeted this recommendation of the Daily Caller piece from his son:


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