BETTENDORF, Iowa (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry said Tuesday that if elected he would end lifetime appointments for federal judges and slash the pay for federal lawmakers, effectively turning Congress into a part-time institution.
In a speech laying out how he would "uproot and overhaul" Washington, the Texas governor suggested that his Washington outsider background — unlike some of his GOP rivals — would help him succeed at changing the city's culture. Changing Washington also was one of President Barack Obama's goals and he's had no success on that front since taking office.
"Unique to the Republican field, I have never been an establishment figure, have never served in Congress or part of an administration and have never been a paid lobbyist," Perry said. "My career has been that of a Washington outsider."
Until he jumped into the presidential race in August, Perry spent his entire political career in his home state of Texas.
The plan Perry rolled out at a heating and cooling company in Iowa also calls for requiring a two-thirds vote in Congress for any tax increases, halting all proposed federal regulations and criminalizing insider trading by Washington lawmakers.
Perry includes the president in the call for a pay cut and said lawmakers' pay would be halved again — or essentially slashed by three-fourths — if the federal budget isn't balanced by 2020.
The president's annual salary is $400,000. Members of Congress not in leadership positions earn $174,000 a year.
"We should cut the salary of the president of the United States in half until that budget is balanced," he said.
With voting set to begin in Iowa in less than two months, Perry is looking to turn around his once high-flying campaign. He is no longer a top-tier candidate, largely because of disappointing debate performances, including an embarrassing blunder in front of his rivals last week when he struggled to name the three federal departments he says he'd dismantle if elected.
The plan Perry unveiled Tuesday lets him stress his outsider credentials at a time when large swaths of the public say they are fed up with Washington and its seeming inability to function. Several of Perry's rivals either are or have been members of Congress, or have served in presidential administrations, including Obama's.
"The issue this election is not whether Washington is broken, but how we go about fixing it," said Perry. "There are two approaches and even my own party is split."
Throughout his speech, Perry sought to distinguish himself from his Republican rivals while not mentioning them by name.
"There are some who want to tinker with the status quo, they want to work within the current system to achieve marginal change," he said of his rivals. "Then there are those who believe Washington is too broken to be fixed by tinkering within the margins."
The plan also helps Perry appeal to conservatives who deplore activist judges, tax increases and government regulations. He added to that by attacking the financial industry bailout. Taxpayers shouldn't foot the bill for bad decisions by stockholders, he said.
Perry claims the proposal is far more aggressive than any of the other Republicans who are challenging him for the right to go up against President Barack Obama next November because of his promise to do away with lifetime tenure for federal judges.
He focused the speech on judges and turning Congress into a part-time institution. A constitutional amendment would be required to eliminate lifetime appointments for federal judges. They are allowed, under the Constitution, to hold office during "good behavior" — interpreted to mean for the rest of their lives, unless they voluntarily step down.
"Too many federal judges rule with immunity from the bench and those who legislate from the bench should not be entitled to lifetime abuse of their judicial authority," Perry said.
Polls have shown that voters have little regard for Congress, a sentiment Perry played on by arguing for deep cuts in congressional budgets and limiting the time lawmakers spend in Washington.
"Congress is out of touch because congressmen are overpaid, overstaffed and away from home too much," he said. "It's time to create a part-time Congress where their pay is cut half, their office budgets are cut in half and their time in Washington is cut in half."
In Washington, House Minority leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., questioned the seriousness of Perry's proposal and suggested he was pandering to tea party supporters.
"Is this a serious proposal he is making for a country that has very high unemployment, whose budget deficit is larger than it has ever been in history, where we have two wars that we are confronting and trying to bring to a conclusion?" Hoyer said. "If this is what he thinks is pandering to the tea party, it is not in my opinion speaking to the issues that the American people feel are very, very critical to them."
Perry said he was not surprised by Hoyer's reaction.
"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," Perry told conservative radio host Sean Hannity. "They're making a great living up there."