Rick Perry’s New Groove (Maybe)

Rick Perry, looking to get back on top of the GOP primary, has unveiled a new reform plan that will “uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C. and our federal institutions,” as he puts it:

Blasting the congressional “creatures of Washington” for being overpaid and detached from the struggles of the people outside the Beltway, Texas Gov. and GOP presidential hopeful Rick Perry vowed Tuesday to eliminate federal agencies, set term limits for federal judges and push for a part-time Congress where both members’ pay and office budgets are sliced in half.

The three-term governor, speaking on a campaign swing in Bettendorf, Iowa, said he would lead by example by cutting his salary as president until the federal budget is balanced, and said that lawmakers who use information to profit from stock trades should go to jail — in what appeared to be a clear reference to recent news reports alleging insider trading involving House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

“I do not believe Washington needs a new coat of paint, it needs a complete overhaul,” Mr. Perry said, according to prepared remarks. “We need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C. and our federal institutions.”

I’m reading his actual plan right here, and I have to say, there are some good ideas here, and one very bad one.

I’ll take the bad first. The idea of having term limits for federal justices is a terrible one. As much as we may dislike a liberal judge on the Supreme Court who has no problem twisting the Constitution until it has the consistency of silly-putty, the last thing we need are justices who must be reappointed every couple of decades, for this puts them directly at the whim of political cycles. The whole point of lifetime appointment was to avoid having judges be subject to the whim of popular opinion, and thus act as an moderating buffer against change, and to provide some stability to our laws. Taking that away would make things even more chaotic than they are now, and would likely open up more doors for federal intrusion into our lives. Furthermore, if I have read this correctly, such a reform would require a Constitutional amendment to change Article III, Section 1, and I highly doubt that, if he does make good on his push for a Balanced Budget Amendment, we will see any appetite for a modification to that part of the Constitution. Unless you want to dump Professor Barnett’s Bill of Federalism on top of our heads, we really can’t take more than one amendment at a time.

Where Perry should push for term limits is in Congress. It is there that the problem originates, not with judges. Congress has improperly “vetted” judicial candidates for decades now, asking them “Are you pro-life or pro-choice?” when the real questions should be “Are you an originalist or a loose constructionist?” It should not be about their personal views, but how they view the law. Congress has also just plain ignored the Constitution over the past eighty years, has refused to enforce its own powers when the President ignores them, has abrogated almost all responsibility in many regards, and has consistently spent hundreds of billions of dollars just to stay in for “one more term.” If there is any place where the federal government desperately needs term limits, it is Congress. Six years for the House, six for the Senate, with a “cooling off” period for the House in all likelihood, but please lord, make that Senate limit absolute. The Pelosi scandal that is brewing illustrates this so well.

Perry’s other ideas are fairly okay ones, however. While cutting the pay of the President and members of Congress would not go very far towards fixing our financial situation, it would be a symbolic gesture with some substance, and I think it would reflect well on an administration serious about cutting spending. He still has the option 20% flat tax, which would be a good idea—if he dropped the “optional” part. He wants to push for a part-time “Citizen Congress,” which is a grand idea, because it gives them less time to focus on expanding government and depriving us of our liberties. Yes, some argue that it would mean they would have less time to do things, but when all they do is needlessly expand government, that’s a good thing. He also adds in ending bailouts, privatizing the housing GSEs, and ending baseline budgeting, all very good ideas, as well as cutting the departments of Commerce, Education, and Energy, which is a good start but not far enough.

One more area I will disagree with Perry is on the Department of Homeland Security. Gov. Perry wants to “restructure and reform” the department, while turning the TSA into a “public-private partnership.” I have a different idea: abolish it. Zero out DHS and the TSA, put the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, and ICE under the Department of Justice, and evaluate all other agencies on a case-by-case basis (with an eye towards getting rid of them.) DHS is doing the job of Justice and Defense, and it should not be; it is also been a horrific invasion of our civil liberties, particularly with its latest round of government sponsored sexual molestation, and such a abomination should not be allowed to stand, period. It might hurt him in the primary to say such a thing, but he still should—and it might garner some support from the center and the left, enough to help him in the general should he get that far.

Of course, this is all talk, and not yet action. It is extremely likely that, should Gov. Perry be nominated and perhaps win the election, none of this would come to pass. (The Constitutional amendments he proposes probably wouldn’t.) These are the usual talking points that Republicans recycle from time to time, just with more specifics, and they’re likely meant only to jumpstart his campaign. Still, Perry is discussing genuine federal reform, unlike most candidates in most elections. That alone is promising.

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