Paul Teller isn’t a household name, but the former chief of staff to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) has been picked for an important job in the Trump White House — liaison to the right wing of the House Republican Party. He has a reputation as a bit of a bomb thrower (he described himself as a “classroom agitator” to the Hill), and his vision for the Trump administration, as outlined in a post-election speech he gave to the conservative Council on National Policy, is certainly quite extreme.
The CNP made a recording of the speech, which a helpful correspondent flagged for me, and you can listen to for yourself here but the big highlights come around minutes 24 and 25.
Teller is, in this context, envisioning himself as working with conservatives in Congress rather than working in the administration. But he says he believes the Trump administration can pursue a sweeping agenda in its first budget request — “no more tweaking around the edges ... let’s just burn a few things down, let’s just rip out this department, let’s kill this agency.” He names the Department of Education specifically as a target, but suggests the same basic philosophy can and should be applied to other unnamed agencies.
Later, he reconsiders a little, and concedes that “you probably can’t get rid of these departments down to zero,” but instead “you can get it down to like 10 percent of what it is,” so that the vast majority of its actual functions disappear. This kind of priority, he says, “can be reflected in a presidential budget,” and he hopes it will be.
He also says he’s looking forward to a renewed round of debt ceiling negotiations in February and March. When Barack Obama was in office, House Republicans tried to use that as leverage to enact spending cuts. Teller says he expects conservatives to do the same thing under a Trump administration: “Conservatives always want spending cuts in exchange for raising it,” and he doesn’t think anything should change about that with a Republican in the White House. He is hoping to revive an extreme budget proposal known as “cut, cap, and balance” that would force fairly dramatic limits on federal spending.
This seems like the kind of thing where Teller may develop a different perspective once he’s in the White House. But his last big provocative idea is one where he’s likely to be even more influential as a White House staffer — a purge of the federal government’s career staff.
“If you’re talking about draining the swamp,” he says, “the best way to do it is let a lot of these government employees leave. Attrition. Don't rehire them. Make it easier to fire them.”
Trump has already instituted a federal civilian hiring freeze that begins to implement this vision. But Teller wants to go further in a way that would validate fears already circulating around Trump’s treatment of America’s diplomats.
“Go after the State Department folks too. Everybody talks about the civil service domestically, but no one talks about the Foreign Service. Let's go after the Foreign Service.”