Still seeking some spark for his struggling presidential campaign, Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry is back in a familiar role—the anti-Washington crusader.
Wednesday morning Perry outlined a dramatic federal government overhaul plan, including term limits for federal judges and Supreme Court justices, slashing lawmakers' salaries and staff budgets in half, and freezing pay and hiring for federal workers.
"We need to uproot, tear down and rebuild Washington, D.C.," Perry said in written remarks for an Iowa town hall meeting today.
For Perry, it's an attempt to reset the debate on familiar ground. In his 2010 gubernatorial re-election campaign, he demolished Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, portraying her as a creature of Washington. Perry was also one of the first Republican politicians to capitalize on the Tea Party movement. In this case, he's focusing his ire on federal judges, who've long been accused of re-writing laws from the bench by conservative activists.
And it's not just conservative activists. Many legal analysts have speculated that life-time terms for federal and Supreme Court judges isn't productive.
"There is something about judges who are ninety years old, barely sentient, still hanging on to the bench," says Michael Tanner, a Congressional analyst with the libertarian Cato Institute.
But to change that, Perry would need to pass a constitutional amendment—along with the Balanced Budget Amendment, which Perry has also vowed to push through as president. Could he deliver on such sweeping promises?
Claiming that Washington D.C. is out of touch, not just politically but also economically, Perry vowed to slash Congressional pay and staff in half unless the federal budget is balanced by 2020. He would also ban insider trading by members of Congress, an issue which has turned into a firestorm after 60 Minutes examined questionable stock purchases by some representatives.
He would also freeze hiring and salary increases for federal workers and would eliminate the federal departments of Education, Commerce and—he didn't forget it this time—Energy, transferring certain programs into other federal departments.
No one's ever going to win an election by defending Congressional pay. But the amount of money to be saved by cutting the legislative budget is miniscule.
In 2011, the legislative branch was given $3 billion out of a total discretionary federal budget of $1.4 trillion.
"There's not really any money to be saved there," Tanner says. "This is playing up the 'I hate Washington' card."
But it's a card that could help Perry revive his campaign. With businessman Herman Cain's campaign faltering, the anti-Washington vote may be up for grabs.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who lead the GOP back to power in 1994 on a largely anti-government, anti-Washington message, may seem primed to pick up this message, but the time he's spent as a Washington figure undercuts that message.
Perry, on the other hand, has been campaigning as a Washington outsider with a political career spent in Texas, and his radical government restructuring plan is being marketed as something only an outsider can do.
"The status quo is good to the Washington Insiders. It's good to the overpaid bureaucrats," Perry said. "We need new leadership. We need a new builder. We need a Washington Outsider."
- See a slideshow of the Republican presidential contenders.
- Check out political cartoons about the 2012 GOP race.
- See cartoons about the federal budget and deficit.