RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich is rising in the polls, but Rick Perry is back in the spotlight after some proposals he made in Iowa yesterday. The Texas governor wants Congress to take a 50 percent pay cut, as part of a sweeping plan to overhaul the government.
NPR's Scott Horsley reports.
SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Speaking at a factory in Bettendorf, Iowa, Texas Governor Rick Perry likened the federal government to a rundown house, with crumbling walls, faulty wiring and a leaky roof. Washington needs more than a new coat of paint, he said. It needs to be rebuilt from the ground up.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Americans know that there is a season for everything under the sun. And this is the season for tearing down and rebuilding again, for uprooting the broken branches of government in Washington.
HORSLEY: Perry's overhaul plan covers all three branches of the government, beginning with the federal courts. He'd do away with lifetime appointments, so judges, including those on the Supreme Court, would serve for a maximum of 18 years.
PERRY: Too many federal judges rule with impunity from the bench, and those who legislate from the bench shouldn't be entitled to a lifetime appointment to the judiciary.
HORSLEY: Never mind that ending lifetime tenure would require an amendment to the constitution. In the executive branch, Perry wants to eliminate whole departments, re-privatize airport security workers, and roll back regulations that he says cost jobs. The bulk of Perry's plan to rebuild Washington is aimed at Congress. He wants to re-shape the legislature as a part-time body. Law makers would be paid only half as much, in hopes they'd spend less time in Washington.
PERRY: Congress is out of touch, because Congressmen are overpaid, they're over-staffed, and they're away from home way too much. America has had enough of that.
HORSLEY: Legislative expert Norm Ornstein, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute, agrees that Congress is broken. But he doesn't think Perry has the right fix.
NORM ORNSTEIN: The big problem is that members of Congress aren't spending enough time in Washington. And this current House has the smallest number of days in session in modern memory, and they've pretty much pushed a lot of urgent matters, including many of these budgetary matters, off the table.
HORSLEY: Ornstein warns that a weaker, part-time Congress would leave a vacuum, that's sure to be filled by a more powerful President or by lobbyists. Still, with Perry's poll numbers in Iowa sliding into the single digits, Ornstein says it's no wonder the Texas governor - and for that matter President Obama - are taking aim at Congress.
ORNSTEIN: Looking at one of the cable television networks, they had a crawl over the bottom of the screen: CBS News New York Times Poll: Communism more popular than Congress. Anything that kicks at them more, that talks about cutting their pay, punishing them, moving them away from anything close to decision-making, is going to be popular out there.
HORSLEY: Perry also won applause, yesterday, for his promise to cut federal spending and balance the budget. Other Republicans have made similar pledges. Mitt Romney, for example, would cap federal spending at 20 percent of the overall economy. But Perry wants to go further.
PERRY: I want to bring spending down to 18 percent of our gross domestic product. That is the average. That's the average that we've had for the last 50 years in this country.
HORSLEY: Actually, that's the average of tax collections for the last 50 years. The average federal spending during that period has topped 20 percent. That might sound like a small difference. But budget expert Stan Collender says whittling federal spending down to 18 percent of GDP would require hundreds of billions of dollars a year in additional cuts.
STAN COLLENDER: We haven't been at 18 percent for a long time, and the likelihood of getting there is extremely, extremely small, without incredible political changes in the United States. It makes for a good slogan in a political campaign. It makes for terrible governing.
HORSLEY: After a series of disappointing debate performances, though, Perry may need more than a good slogan to revive his sputtering campaign.
Scott Horsley, NPR News.
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