Rick Perry’s Big Idea: More Power to the President

November 16th, 2011 at 8:59 am | 34 Comments |

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Though Rick Perry’s plan to “reform” Washington has been getting a lot of press, I think there is something that should especially be emphasized about it, one that does not bode well for classical conservatism: Perry’s plan seems a recipe for radically increasing the power of the executive branch.

Here are some of the principles:

  • Ending the practice of giving lifetime appointments to federal judges (current judges would not be affected);
  • Cutting Congressional pay in half;
  • Cutting Congressional pay in half again if they don’t balance the budget by 2020;
  • Cutting Congressional office budgets in half;
  • Cutting the Congressional calendar by half;
  • Criminalizing insider trading by Congressmen;
  • Reducing spending to 18% of GDP;
  • Privatizing Fannie & Freddie;
  • Ending the funding of Planned Parenthood;
  • Eliminating the Commerce, Education, and Energy Departments;
  • Getting the EPA under control;
  • Getting the TSA under control;
  • Audit the government, including the Department of Defense;
  • Freeze incoming federal regulations, and audit all of them for the last five years;
  • Federal salary freeze for all non-military and non-law enforcement officials until the budget is balanced;
  • And cutting the Presidential salary in half until the budget is balanced

There’s a lot here—some of it good, some of it not so good. Let’s focus on Congress for the moment. One of the key levers of power for Roosevelt’s New Deal and, more broadly, the modern presidency is its corps of bureaucrats and analysts; the Executive Office alone has at least 2000 or so staffers. The president has access to layers and layers of information. This access gives the president great influence in shaping the annual budget and the details of policy. Members of Congress may propose laws, but the substance of these laws often has considerable White House backing.

Congressional staff provide at least a partial check on the data power of the executive branch. By undermining Congressional staffs through salary cuts, one also undermines the ability of Congress to shape the information narrative and write legislation. Meanwhile, cutting Congressional pay might seem an invitation to more petty corruption.

One can say this about Rick Perry with some confidence: he knows how power works. As Governor of Texas, he has shown considerable skill in centralizing power through a cunning use of the appointment powers of the governor and through legislative maneuvering. He knows that power abhors a vacuum and that a diminution of Congress’s power will give the president a further opportunity to exercise power. A few Cabinet departments may be eliminated under Perry’s plan, but those agencies under the president’s direct control will have plenty of room to grow.

Any talk of cutting government employment may elicit shouts of glee from many on the right. But conservatives need to ask themselves whether it advances the cause of smaller government to reform the federal government so that the centralized executive branch has even more power.

Originally Posted at A Certain Enthusiasm.

Recent Posts by Fred Bauer



34 Comments so far ↓

  • balconesfault

    A strange pitch to come from Perry …

    since a more empowered Presidency would be about the number 1 reason for the country to never consider electing him.

    The debates have revealed what already should have been apparent to anyone without an extreme right bias after a few years of the Bush Presidency – the Texas Governor’s role isn’t something that particularly prepares anyone to be the most Powerful Man on Earth.

    Or as one pundit said the other day – the main thing that we’ve learned from the GOP debates so far is that the Pizza Business and the State of Texas pretty much run themselves …

  • icarusr

    “one that does not bode well for classical conservatism: Perry’s plan seems a recipe for radically increasing the power of the executive branch.”

    I guess John Yoo and Alberto Gonzales were “classical liberals” all along.

    Quick: name me one “classical conservative” since Burke – who was a Whig in any event, abducted by conservatives because their cupboards were bare of real thinking conservatives – who has advocated – or supported, hinted at, made a passing remark on, stayed in the room when the matter was raised, has opened an article or a website that might possibly have suggested – decreasing the power of the US Executive Branch for the benefit of greater Congressional supervision. Oh – and not just when Democrats are in the White House, or when they are deriding Europe’s “democratic deficit”.

    One is enough. [Crickets chirping ... tumbleweed tumbling ...]

    Repeat after me: conservatives have daddy issues, which is why they are forever in search of Macho Manly Executive-types (see the initial scrum for Perry; see all the talk of Romney appearing presidential; see W.; see Warren G. Harding). It is libruls who are, in general, suspicious of executive over-reach.

    • Graychin

      Daddy issues? Like W wanting to outdo his dad, the one-term president? (How did that work out, W? You left a mess for your successor. Your daddy left a teed-up ball for Clinton.)

      Or Mitt Romney? Wanting to be a president without any philosophical core, so he could succeed as a presidential candidate where his “brainwashed” father, George Romney, had failed? At best, President Mitt would be a capable technocratic manager – but never a leader.

      But icarusr is right about Republicans having a strong authoritarian streak. They admire the Big Man, the benevolent dictator who will save their souls and their political ideologies.

      But Ronald Reagan isn’t coming back to life. And he wasn’t so much a benevolent dictator as an amiable but clueless uncle.

  • armstp

    •Reducing spending to 18% of GDP;

    Good luck in an age when the demographics mean more older and retired people. Just not realistic.

    Even if you adjust for state and healthcare spending (takes spending to 30-35% of GDP in U.S.), the U.S. government spends far less than the average OECD country, which on average in the mid-40s as a percentage of GDP and that is with the huge relative defense spending the U.S. does. Factor out defense spending and the government spending gap between the U.S. and the rest of the OECD is even greater.

    If you just look at discretionary spending, the U.S. is has by far the lowest level of discretionary government spending of any country in the OECD.

    It is not a spending problem, but a tax revenue problem.

  • Chris Balsz

    “Repeat after me: conservatives have daddy issues, which is why they are forever in search of Macho Manly Executive-types (see the initial scrum for Perry; see all the talk of Romney appearing presidential; see W.; see Warren G. Harding). It is libruls who are, in general, suspicious of executive over-reach.”

    That doesn’t jibe at all with the calls for the President to invent “emergency power” to raise the debt ceiling unilaterally, or the celebration of the Libyan war, or the demands that Congress stop interfering with administrative regulations drafted entirely by bureaucracy.

    • Okie Exile

      In the end, everybody wants “their guy” (or gal) to have lots of power to do what they want, but wants lots of restrictions on “those other people”. The GOP was very big on Executive Powers under Bush II, but now is big on “Constitutionally Limited Government”, at least until they get one of their own back in the White House. Dems do some of this as well, but seem more consistent overall (you don’t hear talk about “Unitary Executive” coming out of Biden).

    • balconesfault

      the demands that Congress stop interfering with administrative regulations drafted entirely by bureaucracy.

      Umm – administrative regulations drafted entirely by bureaucracy, with no Congressional mandates, are called “things that get stricken down by the Courts in very short fashion”.

      Personally, I think you’re full of bs on this one – spouting mindless Limbaughite phrases with no real evidence to point to.

      • jurisdepravis

        For the record, administrative regulations are, by definition, drafted entirely by unelected bureaucrats with little congressional input. However, every single executive branch agency is created pursuant to an enabling statute that directs the agency to promulgate such regulations.

        There is an extensive body of jurisprudence dealing with the outlines and contours of administrative law, but to assert that the court will strike down a regulation that had “no congressional input” is at best misleading.

        • icarusr

          Methinks balcones was responding to the mindless idiocy of the previous post.

          Regulations of whatever stripe, to have legal force, must have a source of legal authority. And so to suggest that administrative regulations drafted by bureaucrats have no congressional input is incorrect and assinine. Where bureaucrats draft regulations, it is because they have been empowered by Congress (hence congressional input) to do so; where they purport o regulate without such authority (or, source “input”) the rule or regulation will be struck down as falling outside the authority of the Executive.

          Of course, Congress does have the authority to haul in administrators, change the law, unfund agencies, and the like where it does not like what the Executive is doing. And so, even on an ongoing basis, there is direct and indirect “input” into regulation0-making by bureaucrats.

          So you are technically right, but I don’t think this is what balcones was trying to address.

        • balconesfault

          Where bureaucrats draft regulations, it is because they have been empowered by Congress (hence congressional input) to do so; where they purport o regulate without such authority (or, source “input”) the rule or regulation will be struck down as falling outside the authority of the Executive.

          I’m referring to the Administrative Procedure Act – whereby those bureaucrats have leeway only to draft legislation as it has been enabled by Congress. If they overstep that mandate, they will most certainly be subject to challenge.

          The mandate is usually a broad goal. The bureaucrat has a responsibility of taking legislation which contains various mandates, and turning them into law. Again – if they cannot defend the regulations they promulgate by pointing back to a specific Congressional authorization, they are going to lose upon challenge.

      • Chris Balsz

        Then I guess you are forgetting about Net Neutrality, and the fact that the courts have already said the FCC has no Congressional authority to enact it, and they’re going ahead and offering the regulations anyhow, and this White House is complaining that Congress won’t stop “interfering with administrative regulations drafted entirely by bureaucracy.”

        • TerryF98

          Idiot.

        • balconesfault

          The FCC is claiming for their new rules direct authority through section 706 of the Communications Act. This is different from the basis vacated in FCC versus Comcast.

          Per my original point – if the Courts conclude that the Communications Act does not authorize FCC enforcement of net neutrality, the new rule will be stricken, just as the FCC enforcement action against Comcast was. That is how the process works.

        • Chris Balsz

          But until that time, if the bureacracy has erred, as the FCC did, they would be enforcing a regulation that had no basis in Congressional authorization. Again. A federal appellate ruling puts it beyond the realm of “talking points”.

          Wasn’t it silly of the FCC to go to two federal courts claiming the 1934 Communications Act authorized their regulations, when it was really in the Communications Act of 1996? I bet their faces are red.

        • balconesfault

          But any agency – run by a Republican or Democratic Administration – has the ability t0 “err” in this fashion, anytime they promulgate regulations. Until the rule has been challenged, and a court has ruled, theoretically every law is overreach.

  • andydp

    Why bother with anything so mundane as the Constitution ? Let’s go back to the heady days of 16th Century despotism*** that we fought a Revolution about…

    ***Gov Perry used “16th century” when talking about the American Revolution.

    Example: Judicial appointments are spelled out in the Constitution. Therefore, before you set “term limits” on judges, you have to amend the Constitution.

    I do like the idea of curtailing salaries on Congress if they don’t do the job… But… didn’t Newt try that ?

    Speaking of “try”: didn’t the GW Bush Presidency show there’s a limit on Presidential power both in and out of war status. The amazing thing is the limits on Presidential power were affirmed by the Supreme Court.

    PS I didn’t see the word “jobs” in that manifesto

  • Houndentenor

    There are actually some good ideas in there. A full audit of the federal government is an excellent idea. Where is all the money going and can we accomplish the same goals for less money? (does anyone think we can’t?)

    • Nanotek

      + 1

      • Graychin

        The Government Accounting Office is already in place, and already audits parts of the federal government on an ad hoc basis. But Congress is in the process of gutting it:

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/16/congress-government-accountability-office_n_1096200.html

        A full audit of the federal government is a nice talking point, but it’s silly in practical terms. Hiring enough auditors might be just the answer for creating millions of jobs, even though they’re government jobs that don’t count. And finding Congressional will to make necessary law changes is unlikely. Someone would want to hold changes hostage to a tax cut for the wealthy.

        • t6c

          GAO has been doing financial audits since at least 1997–http://www.gao.gov/financial.html. In some cases (DoD in particular), audits were being conducted before then. (I was working for GAO at the time and was one to the people trying to do DoD audits.)

          The problem is that management (the President) and board of directors (Congress) don’t like what they are being told and ignore it.

          GAO also publishes an endless stream of reports on ways to do things for less money–http://www.gao.gov/ereport/gao-11-318sp/data_center_savings. However, all of these wonderful ideas involve someone losing something they really like.

  • Chris Balsz

    Neutralizing the power of Executive Branch agencies to make regulations throws a lot of power back to Congress.

    • balconesfault

      See above.

      Spouting GOP talking points isn’t an argument. It’s mindless cant. It proves nothing to anyone who’s not already a true believer with no interest in evidence.

    • t6c

      Congress has had the authority to review/modify/overturn regulations since 1996. I am not sure if it has ever been used. It is more politically useful to complain about something than it is to do something.

      • icarusr

        Any way, this is Civics 101.

        Not just that Congress has had the power of review, but that no agency of government exists without Congressional approval and funding, and no regulations may be made and enforced without legal authority to make them. The first question a court asks when a matter is brought before it on a regulatory matter is this: “did the agency have the authority, under the law to make this regulation?” And the second is, “does the agency have the authoryt under the law to ask this court to enforce it?”

        If you do not know this basic point of how governments function, you should try to temper criticism.

    • Chris Balsz

      A president refusing to employ the authority granted by Congress through enabling acts, to alter the operation of government agencies, would ensure that the only changes made to the operations of the SEC, DOJ, FCC, FDA, and all other agencies, would be those specifically enacted by Congress.

      Yes, such a voluntary cession of the full use of executive powers would be a shift of powers to the Congress — just as if a Congress revoked all those enabling acts, it would be said to be engaging in a “power grab”.

      Perry has proposed such a cession, so the claim his program is a shift towards Presidential power is simplistic and inaccurate.

  • HighCountry

    This article overlooks one important aspect of Perry’s “plan,” which is that he actually has no idea what he is talking about. He is just blowing the right-wing dog whistle, and we all know it.

  • PracticalGirl

    My favorite is Perry’s silly assertion that cutting Congressional salaries will prompt prompt Federal lawmakers to hold other jobs in their states and districts. Sure. Quality part time jobs that require long absences away for yet another part time job are everywhere. I’m certain, however, that most Texas Congressional reps would find immediate purchase from Big Oil companies who would salivate at having a Congressman on their part-time payroll. And I’m certain Slick Rick knows this.

    Whatever happened to the old days (6 or 7 weeks ago) when the Conservative meme was “The Founding Fathers said it, they meant it and we take it literally and to heart?”. Love it or leave it, but don’t mess with the Konstitooshun…Except when it says something we don’t like today.

    • Chris Balsz

      The difference is, he wants to create a change to the old system, whereas liberals pretend the 14th Amendment required their changes and nobody realized it til now.

  • Rob_654

    Why is anyone wasting time talking about a guy who won’t be President?

  • Rick Perry’s Wrongheaded “Government Reform” Plan

    [...] more important, though, because it involves the enhancement of the power of a Presidency that has already grown far beyond where the Founders ever intended: One of the key levers of power for Roosevelt’s New Deal and, more broadly, the modern [...]

  • Chris Balsz

    “But any agency – run by a Republican or Democratic Administration – has the ability t0 “err” in this fashion, anytime they promulgate regulations. Until the rule has been challenged, and a court has ruled, theoretically every law is overreach.”

    Not if Perry’s plan to forbid- by executive order– any agency to promulgate regulations, were adopted.

    I guess you don’t see any real benefit, but it’s a practical solution to a real-life occurrence.

    • indy

      So, while Perry tells congress to shove it, they’ll just sit back and applaud him?

      The only thing practical about Perry’s solutions is that it practically guarantees all out warfare between the branches of government.

    • balconesfault

      Not if Perry’s plan to forbid- by executive order– any agency to promulgate regulations, were adopted.

      Perry’s executive order would be box of rocks stupid, because it would run directly into any number of statutory deadlines and court mandated deadlines for regulatory promulgation, meaning that the Perry Justice Department would be spending an extraordinary amount of time defending arbitrary bureaucratic stasis in front of Federal Courts.