If you want to shrink big government — a shutdown is just what the doctor ordered.

The partial government shutdown closed several agencies: Departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, State, Transportation, and Treasury.

All but the essential employees were on the job, the rest were furloughed or forced to work without pay until the standoff was finally resolved (at least until. Feb. 15).

Here’s the rub, could it just be a mere coincidence that most of these agencies have been targeted by the Trump administration for re-organization and in some instances — eliminated all-together, or privatized. The Trump administration assumes, as do some Americans (rightly or not), that the country’s major problem is too much government.

Where the Clinton administration attempted to reinvent government, the Trump administration plans to rebuild the government “starting from scratch.”

In a memo to all department and agency heads (as OMB Budget Director), Mick Mulvaney ordered agencies to draft plans for overhauling their operations to improve efficiency and cut costs.

During his time at OMB, Mulvaney said “it’s no secret that the president thinks we can run the government more efficiently with fewer people.”

What can we learn from the not so distant past on the plans of this Administration?

President Reagan began trimming the government by crushing the air traffic controllers’ union and now we see a second round of pressure on these federal workers? During the partial shutdown, The Air Traffic Controllers Association expressed concerns that many of its employees will retire early, or quit to find other jobs because they just can’t afford working without pay, and the uncertainty of another shutdown.

Looking back, over the Reagan years, that administration put forth: “Don’t just stand there, undo something.” A central tenet of the “undoing” has been the privatization of government assets and services.

George W. Bush tried to privatize Social Security but soon faced huge opposition and abandoned the effort. However, he didn’t back away from the broader privatization agenda. It is well known that the Bush Administration was following a political strategy laid out by Grover Norquist to weaken his political opponents — in particular public sector unions.

Outsourcing the public unionized workforce to non-union private contractors has been long-standing targets under Republican held Congresses. The previous Republican administrations found privatization targets that were lower profile, didn’t need congressional approval, and therefore attracted less attention — parallels can be drawn between those policies and the policies of the Trump Administration.

So, it is not surprising to learn that union leaders have reported that pressure is being levied once again against organized labor and federal workers by President Trump. The president issued executive orders limiting the activities of the unions that represent them — which was later blocked by a federal judge — then moved to implement a pay freeze for federal employees during the shutdown, which would affect approximately 2.1 million workers (the military would not be affected).

More actions suggest that the Trump White House appears to be drawing from the same earlier playbooks, including the proposed merging of Education and Labor, lead by Mick Mulvaney, a small-government crusader when he crafted the plan to downsize the federal government, as Director at the White House Office of Management and Budget and who is now the “Acting Chief of Staff to the President. He called the plan the biggest reorganization of government since President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Depression-era New Deal. One can argue that the images of the hundreds of federal workers in line at food pantries across the country eerily resembled the images of the soup lines during the “depression”.

The Mulvaney proposal, “Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century,” contained many far-reaching recommendations, including:

§ Privatizing the Postal Service.

§ Merging the Education and Labor departments.

§ Reorganizing safety-net programs into a Department of Health and Public Welfare.

§ Creating a government-wide public-private partnership office to improve services to citizens, and stewardship of public resources.

§ Relocating more staff and offices outside the National Capital Region.

§ Dramatically shrinking the Office of Personnel Management.

§ Revamping the Army Corps of Engineers.

The recent agency reorganization proposals tend to support the long-standing thinking among conservatives that welfare programs should be funded and managed together.

To add to that point, the most controversial of the Trump proposals would be to move the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP) more commonly known as food stamps, from Agriculture to Health and Human Services, with the latter department renamed to something that includes the word “welfare.” Some have suggested that this could be a way of placing a stigma on the program that is responsible for providing food for the poor and needy families with children.

Many questions remain unanswered about the purpose of the 35 Day government shutdown, leaving federal employees and pundits alike perplexed over why this shutdown happened in the first place. Here are three that I believe should be added to the list.

1) Why was the Republican congressional leadership, tone-deaf to those affected by the shutdown that caused losses in personal income and threatened the economic gains the country is experiencing. What happened to the Republicans who once in the past were known as “fiscally conservative,” but now have become comfortable with a grossly bloated budget and deeply shrinking revenue?

2) Is it possible that this shutdown was simply a test run for eliminating certain agencies, functions or federal government employee’s positions?

3) And was the funding in the amount of $5.7 billion for building a wall an acceptable exchange for nearly double the cost of shutting down the government for 35 days? The economic cost was measured to have amounted to at least $11 billion, according to the estimates provided by the Congressional budget office. That’s nearly double the demand for $5.7 billion Trump was demanding to build the southern border wall.

And, if history is any guide and the CBO estimate is correct, it cost more to have shut down the government than to have left it open — and during congressional testimony provided by Trumps’ own Intel Chiefs, the national emergency of immigrants storming the southern border didn’t make it on the list as a national emergency, which Trump is still considering to declare on February 15th, if Congress doesn’t reach a deal on how to fund the government. Aside from being a distraction to the ongoing Russia investigation, so what policy is really lurking behind the wall?

For more information visit: www.wpgnet.squarespace.com

Grab ‘em by the Policy Podcast: https://www.spreaker.com/show/grab-em-by-the-policy

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