Seeking to reclaim his image as an anti-Washington crusader, the Texas governor proposes to radically transform every branch of government.
How much does Rick Perry hate Washington? So much that he wants to kick out members of Congress and make them get real jobs.
Perry's plan to overhaul the federal government, announced Tuesday at a town hall in Iowa, demonstrates his beef with every one of its branches. He would end lifetime tenure for Supreme Court justices and slash numerous departments from the federal bureaucracy -- and yes, he remembered their names this time.
But it's Perry's proposals to demote and reduce Congress that represent his most resonant attempt to claim the mantle of the mad-as-hell, anti-government candidate. He would cut members' salaries in half, cut their staff budgets, and decrease the amount of time they spend in session, encouraging them to get jobs back home instead.
"We send members of Congress to look out for America, not enrich themselves," Perry said in his Bettendorf, Iowa, speech Tuesday morning. "But too often, they are taken captive by the Washington culture. That's why we need a part-time Congress. I say send them home to live under the laws they pass among the people they represent."
The idea of the humble "citizen legislature" composed of working men and women whose lives are just like their constituents' is a fantasy.
With its single-digit approval ratings and manifest failure to accomplish simple tasks like raising the debt limit, Congress is an easy target. Perry has been running against Washington for a long time: In 2010, running for a third term as the incumbent chief executive of one of America's largest states, he managed to convince voters he was the anti-establishment choice, largely by painting his main primary opponent, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, as an out-of-touch denizen of the Capitol.
"The Washington insiders won't address Beltway decay, they won't try a totally new way, because they like things as they are," Perry said. "The lobbyists make their living on protecting corporate loopholes and securing earmarks for the special interests they represent."
As with Sarah Palin's screed against "crony capitalism," Perry is tapping a vibrant -- and bipartisan -- sense that D.C. is riding high on the hog while the rest of America suffers. (Palin, however, pointed to Perry as part of the problem, and the culture of cronyism he's fostered in Texas is notorious.) It's a sentiment shared by the angry Americans of both the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street. The Barack Obama of 2008, too, wanted to kick out all the lobbyists and fix a broken Washington.
But the idea of the humble "citizen legislature" composed of working men and women whose lives are just like their constituents' is a fantasy. Most states have legislatures that are by some definition "part-time," but it's a system that creates its own problems.
For one thing, part-time legislatures are hotbeds of conflicts of interest. A lawmaker who's also a farmer seems like the ideal chair for the Agriculture Committee until it transpires that he's pushing legislation that deregulates his own industry or provides it with government subsidies. Teachers, firefighters, and other public workers seem like great candidates, until you realize they're the ones overseeing the budgets that determine their own salaries, benefits and perks. Already, nearly a third of Congress is made up of lawyers -- what happens when they can join firms that double as lobbying shops?