By Ben Kamisar
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush promised to break Washington gridlock in a sweeping domestic policy speech Monday meant to frame him as the only leader who could alleviate the nation's woes.
Promising a vision "on a scale we haven't seen since the Reagan years,” the GOP presidential candidate said he’d announce tax and regulatory reform proposals over the "coming months,” as well as changes to entitlement programs and a replacement for ObamaCare.
"The overspending, the overreaching, the arrogance and the sheer incompetence in that city — these problems have been with us so long that they are sometimes accepted as facts of life. But a president should never accept them, and I will not."
Bush's expansive speech is his most specific economic policy road map since he announced his bid last month. From the start, his campaign has touted Bush as having the experience needed to turn the nation around and a conservative record that will resonate with both the GOP establishment and base.
Without specifically mentioning his main home-state rival, Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioRubio won’t say if Trump would keep US safe Clinton fails to contain damage from email leaks Five takeaways from New Hampshire Senate debate MORE (R-Fla.), he criticized lawmakers who don't show up to work when Congress is in session and called for a bill that would dock their pay when they skip a day.
"The reality is that Congress is in session for three days in a typical week anyway, so it’s not asking too much that every member be there and work on those days," he said.
"And if it’s an incentive they need, how about the one that pretty much every worker in America has in their job? You don’t show up, you don’t get paid for that time. "
Three sitting senators running for president — Rubio and Sens. Ted CruzTed CruzDemocrats pounce on Cruz's Supreme Court comments Brent Budowsky: An epic battle for the future of Congress Cruz: Precedent exists for keeping Supreme Court short-staffed MORE (Texas) and Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamVulnerable GOP senator questions opponent's American heritage Trump on primary rivals who don't back him: 'I don't know how they live with themselves' The Trail 2016: Who is really winning? MORE (S.C.) — have been panned for missing votes during their campaigns, a common practice in previous election cycles as well.
Bush criticized Washington for operating on autopilot, ticking off a slew of pitches meant to push back against what he characterized as a needless expansion of the federal footprint. Those included a balanced budget amendment, a line-item veto for the president and a federal hiring freeze that would bring on only one person for every three who leave the public sector.
"In the short of it, we’re going to turn off the automatic switch on discretionary spending increases and weigh budgets only on the merits," he said.
Bush also proposed clamping down on lobbyists, including greater transparency about which members of Congress they meet with and extending the ban on ex-lawmakers lobbying their former colleagues to six years.
He added that an "unproductive employee” of the government should be gone within weeks, not years, a veiled jab at a number of public workers in the Obama administration who have retained their positions years after public flaps.
"If the aim is to bring out the best in public servants and to improve morale across the federal workforce, then we have to get the incentives right. No more doling out raises across the board," he said.
"If we respect and recognize skill and dedication when we see them, then I promise you: We’ll see a lot more excellence in the ranks of the civil service — and we’ll attract new talent as well."
Bush has remained at the top of the GOP polls since he began floating his presidential bid, and part of his implicit pitch to voters is that he's the party's best chance at taking on Democratic front-runner Hillary ClintonHillary Rodham ClintonPoll: Most Americans think Russia trying to influence election Levin: Megyn Kelly ‘auditioning’ to leave Fox News AFL-CIO poll finds Trump losing support among union members MORE's massive support network. By doing so, he has also attempted to frame himself as a Washington outsider, a fine line to walk for the son and brother of U.S. presidents.
Instead, he accused Democrats of being the embodiment of the ills of Washington and attacked the Obama administration for missteps regarding the healthcare reform law's rollout, the Veterans Affairs Department, the IRS's handling of tax-exempt organizations, and the recent hack of the Office of Personnel Management.
"Name any excess or abuse in the federal government, and these past six years it has gotten worse," he said.
"For anyone who wants to see a federal government even bigger, and even further removed from those it is supposed to serve, the other party will be offering that option," Bush added.
"As for me, I’m offering a different agenda altogether. It will not be my intention to preside over the establishment, but in every way I know to disrupt that establishment and make it accountable to the people."
Updated at 12:29 p.m.