Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Don't freak out about a congressional paycut

So yesterday, Rick Perry proposed a dramatic change to the way Congress is run: cut their pay by half and make it a part-time legislature. There have been some very good and appropriately horrified reactions from the likes of John Sides, Jon Bernstein, Matt Yglesias, Jamelle Bouie, Matt Glassman, and others. The modal response is that amateur legislatures tend to be weaker compared to professional ones. Part-timers lack the expertise and time to devote to governing, and as a result tend to be more easily manipulated by the executive branch, bureaucrats, interest groups, and others. It's not particularly great for the concept of republican democracy.

That said, let's not all freak out about this proposal. Sure, it's a) irresponsible and b) highly unlikely to become law, but does that really distinguish it from the other policy proposals being bandied about during the 2012 Republican presidential nomination race? Rick Santorum called for war with China. Michele Bachmann called the leader of Iran a "genocidal maniac," which suggests future war. (You can't leave a genocidal maniac in power, can you?) Herman Cain wants to abolish progressive taxation. Mitt Romney promised to repeal Obama's health reform by January 21, 2013. Rick Perry wants to abolish three cabinet agencies, two of which he can name.

It might be just my fuzzy memory, but I'm having a hard time remembering a presidential contest that involved so many campaign promises so fundamentally divorced from reality. It's as though most of these candidates have either no concept of governing or no expectation that they'll ever have to actually try it.

Seen in this light, Perry's amateur Congress proposal is nothing unusual. Perry's campaign is hurting, badly. His proposal is a Hail Mary pass thrown vaguely in the direction of the people in the Republican Party who are reluctant to back Mitt Romney.


Matt Glassman said...

Nice post: good point!

Rick Perry wants to abolish three cabinet agencies, two of which he can name.

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