WASHINGTON, DCIn an address broadcast on late-night television Tuesday, President Bush announced that the federal government will liquidate its holdings in a going-out-of-business sale scheduled to begin Friday.
"The U.S. government, America's place for law and order since 1776, has lost its lease, and everything must go, go, go," Bush said. "But our loss is your gain, and make no mistake: You, the people, would be crazy to miss out on these amazing closeout bargains."
The Washington-based government, which hasn't shown a profit in five years and carries the highest debt in its history, was ultimately driven out of business by costly overhead and cheap foreign competitors. As a result, Bush said, everythingfrom flag stands and Capitol cafeteria flatware to legislation dating from the early days of the republicwill be marked down 30 to 90 percent.
"Get yourself a piece of history, or just stock up on your favorite itemswhatever it is, chances are we've got it," said Bush, wearing a 10-gallon hat and standing before a chroma-key background of the National Mall as a list of federal items and their discounted prices scrolled down the screen. "But act fast, because deals like these will not last."
White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan told reporters Tuesday that the millions of "useful and collectible" items on sale will appeal to collectors and office-supply bargain hunters alike.
"Gently used Capitol police vehicles, $899.99," McClellan said. "The American-flag lapel pin, seen on America's hottest legislatorsget yours for an incredible $1.99. A beautiful Lincoln Bedroom suite, just $399.00. Multiline desk phones, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Economic Opportunity Act Of 1964buy one, get one free. And warehouses full of irregular and discontinued U.S. currency, up to an amazing 40 percent off!"
"See this 'The White HouseWashington' doodad hanging behind me?" added McClellan, gesturing at the familiar oval symbol that has graced the White House press-briefing room for nearly two decades. "Only $39.99. And if you want the Pentagon symbol, just $70 for the pair, and we'll throw in the blue drapes for free."
Portions of the nuclear and conventional weapons stockpile will also be for sale to the public. According to McClellan, the weapons are of "much better quality than those of our former Soviet-bloc competitors."
The 50 states will be sold at auction, the date to be announced.
Beltway observers are expressing surprise at the massive liquidation, recalling that Washington hasn't seen a sales event like this one since President Jimmy Carter's "Metric System Blowout" of 1979. Many have faulted Bush for maintaining a line of inventory that holds little use for most Americans.
"The U.S. government has been on shaky ground for some time, but I think all the fast-depreciating goods President Bush bought to keep it responsive and relevant in the 21st century really sealed its fate," Business Week reporter David Broder said. "I don't see Canada, Japan, or Germany investing in thousands of airport X-ray screening machines. [Bush] will be lucky if he recoups even a tenth of what he paid for them."
While many younger Americans said they consider the U.S. government passé, older residents were wistful about the demise of the longtime institution.
"I just don't know what I'll do when the U.S. shuts down," said Vermont resident and loyal U.S. consumer David Wilson. "Who's going to deliver the mail or put out my house if it catches fire? I guess we'll have to switch to Verizon or something."
Some remain skeptical about the government's claims of insolvency, saying that it's just a ploy to generate fast cash. "I distinctly recall a going-out-of-business sale during the Reagan Administration," New Mexico resident Jim Vernon said. "And even if they do close up, I'll bet you dollars to doughnuts they open up again some place like Guatemala or the Dominican Republic under a new name."
While no date has been set for Washington's final day of governance, Bush assured the public that the sale is "definitely it, folks."
"When it's gone, it's gone," Bush said.