I don’t remember voting for the Heritage Foundation, do you? Yet by all reports the conservative think tank is behind the Trump administration’s plan to reorganize the entire federal government.
Last week, the White House released a document entitled Delivering Government Solutions in the 21st Century: Reform Plan and Reorganization Recommendations. Leading the charge is Mick Mulvaney, current director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). One of Mulvaney’s deputies who helped draft the proposal has called it a rallying cry for “small government” and added the boldness of the plan is “why many Americans voted for this president.”
Over the past year, while our attention has been purposely and systematically diverted elsewhere, “a small army of conservatives and think tank veterans … have been quietly churning out dozens of initiatives like the proposal to reshuffle the cabinet, with the ultimate goal of dismantling the American social welfare system from the inside out.” (Behind Trump’s Plan to Overhaul the Government: Scaling Back the Safety Net, New York Times) I hate to quote him, but know thy enemy someone once said: “Our guys have been in there since the start, grinding it out, and basically no one is noticing it except the smart liberals like Rachel Maddow,” said Stephen Bannon, who according to the New York Times, believes the attack on social programs will be one of Trump’s most enduring policy achievements.
As much as I hate to say it, Bannon may be right. That is if the reorganization plan ever comes to pass. But if you are a government worker or rely on SNAP to feed your family, or like to watch Sesame Street, you may not welcome the administration’s plan with as much glee as Bannon.
Here are just a few of the changes included in the plan:
The Department of Education and the Department of Labor would be combined into one agency known as the Department of Education and the Workforce. Ed. Secretary Betsy DeVos has been aggressively seeking to undermine the department she leads from day one. Easing restrictions on for-profit colleges and lack of enforcement of civil rights laws have been just a few of her antics. Reportedly DeVos is close to Mulvaney and supports the proposal to merge the departments, calling the move “bold reform”. She added, “Artificial barriers between education and work force programs have existed for far too long.” This part of the plan is seen as a threat to both departments by Democrats, but there are also critics from the other side of the aisle. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, described the plan as dead on arrival and said the administration is pushing “futile reorganizations of the federal government just to have a new talking point.” Murray told reporters, “Democrats and Republicans in Congress have rejected President Trump’s proposals to drastically gut investments in education, health care, and workers—and he should expect the same result for this latest attempt to make government work worse for the people it serves.” What the plan shows when it comes to education is that the administration has a very strict idea of what the purpose of education is-workforce development-period.
Government Workers and Unions
Many see the reorganization plan as an attack on unions and government workers, which is an understandable concern since the plan gives no numbers on how many jobs would be cut due to consolidation. The American Federation of Government Employees called the plan a “scheme to gut federal services,” by targeting domestic programs that have little support from conservatives. “There’s little reason to believe this reorganization plan is anything more than a scheme to eliminate essential programs and public-service jobs, reward or punish political appointees depending on their allegiance to the White House, and privatize government programs to reward political donors,” AFGE President J. David Cox Sr. said in a statement.
The Social Safety Net
The government reorganization plan would rearrange social welfare programs in a way that would make them easier to cut or scale back. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which aids 42 million poor and working people would shift from the Agriculture Department to a new “mega agency” that would have the word “welfare” in its title. Knowing how genius the right is at branding, the use of that word was hardly accidental and if used would surely be employed to disparage programs that would fall under its auspices. Philip G. Alston, a New York University professor and the United Nations special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, recently authored a study on endemic poverty in U.S. cities and the rural South. Here is how he described the administration’s program: “There is a contempt for the poor that seems to permeate the president’s inner circle that seems very worrying. It’s done under the banner of providing opportunity and seeking long-term solutions but it all seems designed to increase misery.”
Much of the policy in the reorganization plan has been engineered early on by operatives from The Heritage Foundation, The Federalist Society, and the Koch brothers, with The Heritage Foundation seeming to have the greatest influence. In fact, Rich Dearborn, a former Heritage employee and Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, brought over about 70 Heritage-linked “experts” and put them in cabinet and policy-making positions. According to the New York Times, “Benjamin Hobbs, a former employee of Heritage and the Charles Koch Foundation, who received a top policy job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development, was a driving force behind a proposal to raise rents on some of the poorest residents of subsidized housing by as much as 44 percent, according to two administration officials. In a recent meeting, Mr. Hobbs raised eyebrows by claiming the increases were intended, in part, to persuade unmarried couples to move in with each other to pool rent payments, according to two people in attendance.”
Steve Bannon also tapped one of Heritage’s founders, Edwin J. Feulner Jr., soon after the inauguration to help create a list of action items on scaling back social welfare programs. The plan unveiled by Mulvaney last week was actually based on a template create by The Heritage Foundation, which was given a multi-million dollar gift from Rebekah Mercer for the express purpose of creating the government overhaul plan. By early 2017, Heritage drafted a list of 334 policy recommendations, half of which were aimed at domestic programs for the poor and Obama-era regulations protecting low-income consumers.
We have already seen that Trump’s prescription for people who rely on our social safety net is to impose work requirements even though many of the individuals receiving help are already working. Director of the Domestic Policy Council Andrew Bremberg says, “Our goal is to get people on the path to self-sufficiency.” But as MLK said in a sermon he delivered on poverty just four days before he was assassinated, “It’s alright to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is a cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.” Advocates for the poor say the administration’s real aim is to remove assistance for the most vulnerable in order to give tax cuts to the rich. “It’s a war on the poor, pure and simple,” said Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.
The pace of the Trump administration’s attacks on our social safety net has picked up in the past year, possibly because conservatives are trying to push as much through as they can prior to the midterms. In the last two weeks alone, Trump tried to pass a $15 million bill that would reduce domestic spending, Mulvaney has fired the 25 member board of the CFPB, and administration lawyers have challenged an Obama-era anti-discrimination rule that provided greater funding for projects in minority neighborhoods.
Other items on the chopping block
The plan would eliminate the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Mulvaney now heads, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Import-Export Bank, which provides loans and insurances to aid the export of American goods and services. Mulvaney also wants to privatize the U.S. Postal Service and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Some of the changes outlined in the plan can be done under OMB or through presidential orders, but most have to pass Congress. While we may find the reorganization plan alarming, it will all have to pass Congress (and even many Republicans are not on board) making it all the more imperative to get out to the polls in November.
posted by Amy Levengood