By James Oliphant
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Vivek Ramaswamy joined a growing chorus of 2024 Republican presidential candidates vowing to radically reduce the size and function of the U.S. government if elected next year, calling on Wednesday for a “revolution” that will hold the federal bureaucracy “accountable.”
Former President Donald Trump and his top rival, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, have also pledged to fire hundreds of thousands of federal workers and to dismantle or overhaul several departments and agencies, including the FBI and the Department of Education.
Ramaswamy, a biotech entrepreneur who is new to politics, outlined his plan on Wednesday at a Washington think tank that supports Trump’s “America First” agenda.
“Do we want incremental reform? No,” Ramaswamy said. “Or do we want a revolution?”
Ramaswamy, 38, distantly trails Trump in national polls but has seen his profile spike since sparring with other contenders at the first presidential debate last month. He is running as an unapologetic champion of Trump’s policies and has consistently defended the former president on the stump.
Ramaswamy shares the same mistrust of the “deep state,” a term popularized by Trump that contends, without evidence, that a network of unelected federal bureaucrats works clandestinely to thwart conservative policy objectives.
Ramaswamy said his plan would ultimately slash the federal workforce by 75%, resulting in more than 1.6 million layoffs, a target more dramatic than Trump or DeSantis have proposed.
He would also eliminate the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Department of Education and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which oversees commercial nuclear power plants, among other agencies.
“Speaking as a CEO, if somebody works for you, and you can’t fire them, that means they don’t work for you,” he said.
The vast majority of the 2.2 million government workers are classified as permanent and non-political civil service. A small fraction, around 4,000 workers, are political appointees chosen by the governing administration.
Ramaswamy said the U.S. Constitution gives the president almost unlimited authority over the executive branch, but experts disagree.
“It could not be done without Congress repealing the laws that empower these agencies and functions,” said Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution.
Democrats currently control the U.S. Senate, but that chamber will be up for grabs in the 2024 general election, when Americans will also elect a president. Ramaswamy and others are campaigning to win their party's nomination to face off against Democratic President Joe Biden next November.
Ramaswamy did not address the economic impact that would result from more than 1 million workers losing their jobs.
A study released last week by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office found that a five-week government shutdown in 2018-2019 saw nearly a million federal workers furloughed and reduced U.S. economic output by $3 billion.
Trump has pledged to issue an executive order upon taking office that would let him fire “rogue” bureaucrats in protected civil-service positions deemed disloyal to the White House.
Allies of both Trump and DeSantis have been involved in "Project 2025," a joint effort by dozens of conservative think tanks to compile lists of thousands of conservatives who could take positions across federal agencies and departments should a Republican president be elected.
Trump, who faces federal and state charges relating to his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, has called on Republicans in Congress to defund the FBI and the Department of Justice claiming that they have been “weaponized” against him.
DeSantis, too, has spoken of the need to reform those agencies. He has promised to fire the director of the FBI, Christopher Wray, if elected.
(Reporting by James Oliphant; Editing by Ross Colvin and Daniel Wallis)