What does Congress think of Rick Perry’s plan to cut congressional salaries and budgets in half and for lawmakers to spend half their time away from Washington?
According to one prominent Democrat, the Texas governor and GOP presidential hopeful is just “pandering to the tea party.”
Asked Tuesday about Perry’s proposal, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) responded first by poking fun at the Texas governor’s performance at last week’s GOP presidential debate, when Perry was unable to remember the name of the third government agency that he would like to eliminate if he’s elected president.
”Rick Perry?” Hoyer asked. “I’ve heard that name. Let’s see. Oh, he’s the one who has three – yes, I can’t remember what they are, but yes.”
On the specifics of Perry’s plan, which the GOP hopeful unveiled Tuesday morning at an event in the first-in-the-nation caucus state of Iowa, Hoyer panned the proposal as a move to shore up support among conservatives rather than a genuine policy idea.
“Is this a serious proposal that he’s making for a country that has very high unemployment, whose budget deficit is larger than it’s ever been in history, and we have two wars that we’re confronting and trying to bring to conclusion?” Hoyer asked. “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 public feels are very, very critical to them – jobs being the number-one issue.”
The announcement by Perry – which also includes a proposal to cut the president’s pay in half -- comes on the heels of a proposal by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to cut lawmakers’ pay by 10 percent if a bipartisan debt “supercommittee” isn’t able to reach a deal by Nov. 23.
While both plans might make for good politics, pay reductions for Congress and the president would do little to bring down the national debt. The salary cuts suggested by Perry would save only about $50 million a year, not including the additional savings that would be achieved by slashing the budgets of congressional offices.
The question of whether Perry’s proposal is “serious” is a legitimate one, as the Constitution bars lawmakers from changing the salary levels of any current Congress; it also states that the president’s salary “shall neither be increased nor diminished during the Period for which he shall have been elected.”
On top of that, members of Congress already spend a significant amount of time away from Washington. According to a new calendar released by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the House is only scheduled to be in session for 109 of 261 weekdays in 2012, and a tentative schedule released by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) shows the upper chamber in Washington for only 22 of the first 36 weeks of the year, less than two-thirds of the time.
Hoyer did concede that Congress’s approval rating – which registered at 13 percent in a Gallup poll this week and at 9 percent in a CBS/New York Times survey last month – has hit record lows, and that many Americans think that “maybe they should send Congress home.”
“We’re up to 13 [percent]?” Hoyer said Tuesday of this week’s Gallup poll. “That means there’s 87 percent know what’s going on. The other 13 really haven’t learned how poorly we’re doing.”