Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s big “oops” moment at Wednesday’s CNBC Republican debate is just the latest example of a Republican presidential candidate calling for the elimination of federal agencies and departments.
During the debate, Perry couldn’t seem to recall all three departments he wants to eliminate if elected president — Commerce, Education and Energy.
“It is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone,” Perry said last night on stage. “Commerce, Education, and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”
He stumbled — big time — over the course of 53 seconds before admitting: “I can’t. The third one, I can’t. Sorry. Oops.”
So what do folks at Commerce, Education and Energy think of Perry’s proposal?
“We don’t watch the debates. We’re working,” Education Department spokesman Justin Hamilton said in an e-mail.
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera said the department would have no comment.
Spokesmen for Commerce didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. (Most department officials are en route to Hawaii for the APEC summit. We will surely add their thoughts when we hear back.)
In September, FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate similarly demurred when asked what he thought of Rep. Ron Paul’s (R-Tx.) proposal to eliminate the disaster relief agency.
Trying to capitalize on his blunder, the Perry campaign last night e-mailed supporters encouraging them to vote in an online poll to select the federal agencies they’d most like to eliminate.
“Is it the EPA and its job-killing zealots? The NLRB and its czar-like dictates? The edu-crats at the Department of Education who aim to control your local curriculum?” the e-mail asked.
The e-mail then asks supporters to “throw in a $5 contribution for every agency you would like to forget. We hope you have a long list.”
After last night’s blunder, Perry may need all the help he can get.
(By the way, Perry’s campaign may want to do a little research: When Congress established the Education Department, it specified that the department could not “exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration or personnel of any educational institution, school or school system, over any accrediting agency or association, or over the selection or content of library resources, textbooks, or other instructional materials by any educational institution or school system, except to the extent authorized by law,” according to its Web site. Seems to run counter to Perry’s claims, no?)
The practice of calling for the elimination of federal departments dates back to at least 1980, when Ronald Reagan campaigned on shuttering Education and Energy, which had been established by Jimmy Carter and were seen by Republicans as symbols of growing federal power. Reagan’s legislative attempts to eliminate or curtail the powers of the departments later failed.
Calls to eliminate Commerce may be puzzling to some, since it is often seen as the counterbalance to the Labor Department. But Commerce does maintain regulatory powers over businesses -- especially regarding trade -- so the Republican ire is perhaps understandable.
Several GOP candidates have also said they would eliminate or overhaul the Environmental Protection Agency -- an agency that also regulates business. But remember, the agency was established in the 1970s by Republican Richard Nixon.
The 1994 GOP Contract With America also called for closing several federal agencies — but those plans also sputtered in part because the 13 different congressional committees with oversight of the department resisted the measures.
And while GOP candidates may call for the elimination of certain non-security agencies, they always manage to appoint new Commerce, Education and Energy secretaries once elected president, don’t they?
And while they propose closing the departments, none of the candidates has specified how they would redistribute responsibilities, including nuclear safety (handled by Energy) and the National Weather Service (operated by Commerce), among other agencies and responsibilities.
Staff writers Eric Yoder and Lyndsey Layton contributed to this report.
This story has been updated.
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