Saturday Reading: SOTU and the Shutdown

A quick post today, as I have a jam-packed Saturday (after a jam-packed week, with another busy week on the horizon—it’s the Year of the Panther, baby!):  the President has reached an agreement to reopen the government for three weeks, it seems in order to get paychecks out to Homeland Security and federal law enforcement more than anything else, with the promise (threat?) to leverage another government shutdown in February to obtain border wall funding.

This compromise feels like a loss; I can only hope President Trump has some clever scheme up his sleeve.  From what I’ve been hearing (most recently on today’s episode of Radio Derb), the polls have shown Americans steadily blaming Trump for the shutdown.  Of course, this prompts me to ask, “do they see the shutdown as positive or negative?”

Certainly there are good federal employees who need paychecks, especially border patrol agents and federal law enforcement, but how many of you actually felt the effects of the shutdown?  At the very least, let’s hope the President took Ben Boychuck’s advice, as well as the advice of his anonymous senior official, to layoff permanently some of the dead weight in the federal bureaucracy.

As Boychuck writes in the Sacramento Bee:

Everyone knows the president cannot fire career government employees willy-nilly. Our civil service laws are ironclad. But a fairly obscure rule would allow the administration to lay off certain workers if they’ve been furloughed for at least 30 days. It’s called a “reduction in force” and it’s perfectly legal as long as the White House adheres to certain criteria, accounting for an employee’s tenure, total federal and military service, and work performance.

According to Boychuck, some 350,000 federal employees are eligible for “reduction in force” according to this obscure rule.  I don’t think anyone is advocating laying off all of those people—surely some 5-10% of them perform useful functions and/or aren’t totally subvervise to the President’s agenda—but I imagine we could do without at least some of them.  Surely even a token culling of the herd would send a powerful warning to feds:  you work for the American people, not your second home.

A part of me worries that our peacocking POTUS might be reopening the government simply to give the State of the Union Address in the House chambers.  That would be a bad move.  The Constitution doesn’t specify the form or venue for the SOTU address.  In fact, it doesn’t even have to be a verbal “address” at all!

Thomas Jefferson—timid about public speaking, and fearful of the kingly connotations—stopped giving a verbal address upon taking office in 1801.  Instead, his annual message was sent to Congress and read aloud by the Speaker or another member, then published throughout the States in newspapers.  Everyone could easily read it, and this approach made perfect sense in a pre-mass-communications age.

The Jefferson approach endured until the presidency of Democrat and progressive Woodrow Wilson.  Remember, Wilson hated our Constitution (PDF), and believed it was an archaic document that did not work adequately in the dynamic, industrial world of the early twentieth century.  He idolized the British Parliament, and sought to make the presidency more akin to the position of Prime Minister—the first among equal voting members in the legislature.  He believed that approach, called fusion of powers, was more efficient and democratic (“democratic” in those days being the Left’s preferred way to advance progressive ideology and policy, though in practice that meant electing representatives who would farm out their law-making powers to unelected technocrats in the federal bureaucracy).

Regardless, the die was cast, and with the advent of television, the State of the Union Address has become a ponderous, grandiose political event that doesn’t really tell us anything useful about the state of the nation, but just how awesome whoever the current president is.  This time, those boastful claims would be mostly true, but was it worth reopening the government to do it on time?

Boychuck, among others on the Right, were calling for the President to end the modern, monarchical spectacle of the State of the Union, returning it to Jeffersonian simplicity.  As much as I don’t want to deny the president his moment in the sun, that approach seems prudent, and more in accord with the republican nature of our Constitution.

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