Ted Cruz Would Put 150,000 Feds on Notice and Eliminate Automatic Pay Raises

Republican Presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Iowa GOP's Growth and Opportunity Party in October. Republican Presidential candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Iowa GOP's Growth and Opportunity Party in October. Nati Harnik/Associated Press

One Republican presidential candidate wants to eliminate federal agencies so badly he has proposed doing away with one department twice.

Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the Republican presidential candidates' debate Tuesday said he would eradicate five major agencies if elected president, but inadvertently mentioned the Commerce Department twice. In a new federal government reform plan rolled out by the Cruz campaign this week, however, the senator clarified which agencies he would get rid of: the "Internal Revenue Services" [sic], as well as the departments of Education, Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and, of course, Commerce.

Cruz spoke in detail about his plan to abolish the IRS during Tuesday's debate, saying he would simplify the tax code so significantly that the government would no longer need it. The rest of the plan, Cruz said, would return education decisions to local communities and states, “unleash the energy renaissance,” promote free enterprise and free trade and prevent families from being trapped in a cycle of poverty.

The proposal would, on the surface, eliminate about 150,000 federal jobs, or about 7 percent of the civilian workforce, though Cruz would allow his appointed secretaries to determine whether any programs were worthy of preservation. Those agency heads would otherwise be tasked with the “sole charge” to wind down the departments. As for what gets saved, Cruz said in a National Review op-ed, “I do not anticipate the lists to be long.”

The senator, who many pundits have speculated is well positioned to be among the last candidates standing in the crowded Republican field, did not specify which components he may carve out, such as the Patent and Trademark Office, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or the Census Bureau -- agencies whose functions are generally considered to be core government responsibilities. The Cruz campaign did not respond to multiple inquires.

The downsized federal workforce would then be subject to a partial hiring freeze, Cruz said, though he would allow for some new workers in positions that agencies determine “need to be filled.” In such cases, however, agencies could hire a replacement in only one out of every three vacancies. The proposal is similar to one laid out by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and in the budgets put forward by now House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Cruz also mirrored Bush in a call to dissolve across-the-board pay raises for federal employees. Instead, both the former governor and his 2016 rival said feds should have “more opportunities for merit-based pay increases.” Currently, only the Senior Executive Service operates on a pay-for-performance system.

In addition to the five major agencies he would eliminate, Cruz proposed folding 25 “ABCs” -- agencies, bureaus and commissions. The list contains some federal programs. About one-third are programs in the Environmental Protection Agency. Also included are some government corporations, such as the Public Broadcasting Service and National Public Radio; and some independent, political hot-button agencies, such as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the National Endowment for the Arts/Humanities.

While Cruz acknowledged “no government spending plan is complete without addressing entitlement reform,” he said he would “start with federal discretionary spending.” The programs and agencies Cruz would put on bureaucratic death row “prop up special interests at the taxpayer’s expense,” Cruz said.

The freshman lawmaker would also revitalize an initiative from the Ronald Reagan administration, known then as the Grace Commission, to appoint private sector leaders to serve on a board that would identify ways to cut costs and boost government revenues without raising taxes. While the original Grace Commission, which Reagan touted as a means to pay for his buildup for the nation’s defense, identified nearly 2,500 recommendations, it ultimately was not successful. Much like the more recent Simpson-Bowles National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, Congress declined to implement many of the Grace Commission’s recommendations, saying the panel came up with “fantasy figures.” The commission’s failure reflects a long-running difficulty with eliminating federal agencies and programs.

Cruz is undeterred by that history, saying he would shrink the federal government “by every and any means possible.” He estimated his plan would save $500 billion over 10 years. 

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