Perry’s ‘uproot and overhaul’ plan

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign may have fallen on hard times, but he has a plan for getting on track. It apparently includes presenting a bunch of sweeping policy proposals — which is counter-intuitive, given that Perry isn’t exactly the technocratic wonk of the Republican field.

But the Texas governor is giving this a shot anyway. First came the big speech on energy policy in Pennsylvania. Then there was the flat-tax speech in South Carolina. This morning, Perry unveiled a new plan in Iowa to “uproot and overhaul” the way D.C. operates on a structural level.

Gov. Rick Perry of Texas announced a proposal on Tuesday that ranks among the most radical plans to alter the federal government offered by any major Republican presidential candidate this year — and one that legal analysts say will almost surely never happen: making Congress operate part-time with half pay and ending lifetime tenure of federal judges.

“I don’t believe that Washington needs a new coat of paint, I think the whole place needs to be overhauled,” Mr. Perry said, speaking to applause from more than 100 people on the floor of the Schebler manufacturing plant. “I’m a true believer that we need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C., and our federal institutions.”

Tepid this isn’t. Perry wants to slash congressional pay, impose term limits on judges, mandates congressional super-majorities for any future tax increases, eliminate several cabinet agencies (if Perry can remember them), and establish what the governor calls a part-time “Citizen Congress.”

Some of this is unconstitutional; some of this wouldn’t stand a chance in Congress; and some of this is just kind of silly; but it’s this part-time “Citizen Congress” that stands out.

As Perry sees it, Congress has become too professional an institution — filled with experienced federal lawmakers and knowledgeable staffers who spend a lot of time on policymaking. This won’t do. In a part-time “Citizen Congress,” we’ll replace politicians with regular folks who won’t work that hard and won’t make much money.

There may be some segments of the population who find this appealing, but they’re mistaken. As Jamelle Bouie explained, this is where Perry’s reform agenda “goes off the rails,” by inviting “corruption and incompetence.”

Legislating is hard work, and the value of a professional legislature is that it allows lawmakers to develop the skills and expertise necessary to write good laws. Decent pay factors into this — when lawmakers aren’t worried about paying the bills, they are less likely to respond to bribery, pay-for-play, and other forms of corruption.

Here’s what you would get by adopting Perry’s “reforms.” Already, congresspeople are buffeted with concerns from constituents and interest groups on a variety of policies, to say nothing of the pressure of fundraising and re-election. Absent the time to educate themselves or the staff necessary to collect information, something has to give, and more often than not, that something is independence. When lawmakers are pressed for time, resources, and cash, they’re far more likely to rely on lobbyists for information, and even written legislation. After all, of the people in or around government, lobbyists (and assorted advocates) have the most time and resources for changing the direction of policy. Professionalized legislatures aren’t perfect, but they stand as something of a bulwark to the undue influence of interest groups. Take that away, and you’ve turned Congress into an institution more porous than it already is.

Perhaps Perry hasn’t thought about all of this. Perhaps he has and he doesn’t care. After all, as E.J. Dionne explained this week, we’re talking about a GOP presidential candidate whose platform is based on “mindless opposition to government.”

Either way, the fact that Perry thinks his “uproot and overhaul” plan is a good idea speaks volumes about his vacuous ideology.