By Debbie Siegelbaum - 11/20/11 10:30 AM EST
Lawmakers who've endorsed Rick Perry for president reacted warily to his plan for a part-time Congress and expressed concern about his proposal to cut their salaries in half.
In response to inquiries from The Hill, the lawmakers disagreed with some aspects of the plan but said they liked other parts, such as the idea of spending more time in their districts.
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) vowed to continue to stand by Perry, although he wasn’t necessarily on board with all of the Texas governor's plans.
At issue was halving lawmaker pay, which according to Inhofe, could lead to an independently wealthy Congress run by “Rockefellers and people like that, many of whom don’t really have the sensitivities to the real world.”
According to Perry supporter Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), we might already be there.
“With campaign finance reform laws being the way they are now, with McCain-Feingold, you’re almost moving to that anyway because it’s so hard to raise money that you almost have moved to a situation where there is a political class that runs,” he said.
Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) echoed the sentiment.
“That’s a danger even right now,” she said. “Many people here, they don’t need any salary. Let’s face it, they are independently wealthy; everybody is not.”
That viewpoint is further corroborated by a study released this week by the Center for Responsive Politics, which found that 47 percent of Congressional lawmakers are millionaires.
But, added Mulvaney, “at the other end of the spectrum you could ask the question, ‘If you doubled [lawmaker] salary, would you get a higher quality of person?’
“In the business world, when we want to hire the best people, we offer them more money,” he said. “I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) said his stance on Perry's salary plan would depend on several factors and pointed out that lawmakers face legal restrictions in the income they can earn outside of Congress.
“You would have to be able to go get a job someplace else,” he said. “You’d obviously have to change conflict of interest issues, you would also have to change the active income issue because right now I think we can make $21,000 a year in active income.”
Miller also noted the financial limitations placed on lawmakers.
“Right now we’re restricted from having any other outside income, practically,” she said. “Here you have [doctors] that come here, they can’t even practice medicine. I’m not sure why that’s unethical, but apparently we’ve made it unethical.”
In a speech in Iowa Tuesday, Perry, who is positioning himself as a Washington outsider, called for "a part-time Congress where their pay is cut in half, their office budgets are cut in half, and their time in Washington is cut in half."
Perry’s strategy is modeled on several state legislatures, including Texas’s, that operate on a part-time schedule.
Mulvaney supported Perry’s stance on broader economic issues.
“I’m still very much on board,” he said. “In my mind, he still has the best plan to help fix our deficit and help put people back to work . . . I know, having spent time on the Budget Committee, how important the economic and spending issues are.”
But Perry supporter Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said he disagreed with Perry's proposal.
“The governor’s call to reduce the role of the legislative branch and thereby increase the power of the executive branch is not in the best interest of the constitutional republic,” he added. “Our nation faces full time problems that demand members of Congress full time attention.”
Perry continued to push his creative legislative branch plans this week, challenging House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to a debate about his “Overhaul Washington plan versus the congressional status quo.”
“A part-time Congress with half the pay would still make $38,000 a year more than the average American family,” he wrote in a letter to Pelosi Wednesday. “Do you truly oppose lawmakers spending more time in their districts?”
The suggestion of spending more time outside of Washington garnered Perry greater support from lawmakers.
“The truth is I think that idea actually has merit,” Miller said. “Maybe you don’t need a full-time Congress, and I like the idea where he said you could go home.”
“That portion of it I kind of do agree with because we sit around and spend an awful lot of time doing nothing,” Inhofe said. “A lot of times we’ll be here — and this is true in the House and the Senate — we’ll be here Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and then Thursday when it starts to be time that people are getting tired of being here, that’s when they have the votes all start.”
Inhofe recalled his past experience working in a part-time state legislature, and said, “Frankly, it worked pretty well.”
Mulvaney concurred, noting that the part-time political system in Texas has “received pretty good results.”
“I don’t think there’s a direct correlation between the amount of time we spend in Washington and the quality of the output of our work,” he said. “Congress operates a lot like my middle schoolers, which is that we do most of the work the night before the project is due. So leaving us up here for more time doesn’t necessarily mean you’re going to get a better job out of us.”