Perry: make Congress more like Tx Legislature
Tue November 15, 2011 10:01 pm

It's hard to figure out what the Perry campaign is trying to do these days. The message varies from day to day. Today it was government reform, a sweeping plan to make Congress resemble the Texas Legislature and federal judges resemble Texas state judges, who must face the voters every four to six years, depending upon the court on which they sit. Perry would subject Congress and federal judges to term limits. He would slash their pay and their office budgets. I trust that most readers will not miss the irony of Texas's longest-serving governor calling for term limits, but an appreciation of irony has never been one of Perry's strong points.

The governor's attitude toward Congress may partially be explained by the lack of support he received from his home state delegation in his race against Kay Bailey Hutchison. It seems that Texas congressional Republicans did not appreciate Perry's campaign tactic of saying that "Washington is broken" and earmarks are bad. Perry and the congressional delegation threw each other under the same bus.

Other Perry proposals:

--2/3 vote necessary for any tax increase

--immediate halt in all federal regulations

--ending lifetime appointments for federal judges

--cutting congressional pay and staffing

Obviously, what Perry is trying to do is to establish himself as the most anti-Washington candidate in the field, and, in so doing, to get himself back in the good graces of the Tea Party. But he runs the risk of ripping the Republican Party wide open between its establishment wing (including Congress) and its Tea Party wing.

Is there really a constituency to be won over by Perry's uber-populist attack on Congress? I doubt it. This is just too much inside baseball. It is hard to make the sell that the thing that is really needed in Congress is to make the government part-time. A part-time legislature works in Texas because it meets for 140 days every two years. The rest of the time, lawmakers are back in their communities. At the state level, the range of issues is quite narrow. If the Legislature screws up, as it has been known to do, it can set the state back a few steps, as it did last session, but it can't do lasting harm. If Congress screws up, it can damage the entire country. At the national level, a part-time legislature cannot develop any expertise. How can it deal with complicated issues like managing the economy or evaluating a weapons system? Congress would grind to a halt if Perry's proposal were adopted. The issues are too complex.

As much as Congress is looked down upon, and for good reason, I don't think that the American people want it to be part-time. They may not like government, but they see it as a necessary evil, which, if we are going to have a government, might as well have the ability to do a decent job.

Perry's proposals were criticized by House minority leader Stenny Hoyer, D-Maryland. Perry responded, "It's not a surprise to me when I laid out this fundamental reform that I talk about and ask the American people to consider a part-time citizen Congress, that career politicians like Steny Hoyer don't like my plan to overhaul Washington." Career politicians indeed. As I said, an appreciation of irony is not one of Perry's strong points.

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