Why Congress is a favorite GOP whipping boy
Next to President Obama – and each other – the foibles of Congress have provided an easy target for small-government-is-better GOP presidential candidates.
Now facing historic lows in opinion polls, Congress has become one of the favorite whipping boys of Republicans on the campaign trail this year.Skip to next paragraph
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The near-shutdowns, the near default, the first-ever downgrade on the national credit rating (attributed to “political brinkmanship” in Congress), the pork, the scandals – it’s all grist for a campaign where all players aim to position themselves as the outsider.
Outsiders need insiders, and for most of the GOP primary field, that insider is Congress.
“Denunciations of Congress have a long history,” says John Pitney, a political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont, Calif. “The new wrinkle in 2012 is that Republicans are slamming Congress, even though their party controls the House and has at least a 50-50 chance of winning the Senate.”
The most conspicuous Congress-basher in the race, Texas Gov. Rick Perry earlier in his campaign called for turning Congress into a part-time job – halving pay, staff, and time spent in Washington. He says what’s wrong with Congress is that it spends too much money and passes laws, such as the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill, that “strangle the country with regulations.” The solution is to “deconstruct the permanent political class in the legislative branch,” he said in a recent campaign ad.
Former members of Congress are especially vulnerable to attacks on the institution, in part because their personal voting records cover a vast sweep of laws, many of them unpopular. Under attack for his vote in favor of the 2002 No Child Left Behind Law, former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania this week backed off his vote.
“I’m a strong conservative, but I’m not perfect,” he said during Monday’s GOP presidential debate in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We should repeal all of the federal government’s role in primary and secondary education, and if you give me the opportunity, I’ll do that,” he added.
For his part, at town meetings in New Hampshire, Santorum often targeted Congress for not playing straight with voters on issues such as entitlements. In Brentwood, N.H., on Jan. 4, he criticized Congress for raising the retirement age for Social Security in a bill that didn’t take effect for more than 20 years. “That way nobody blames them,” he said.
For eight-term Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the failings of Congress provide constant material for stump speeches. He refers to members of Congress as “big spenders” who would “drive the country into bankruptcy,” but fail to defend personal liberty, especially after the 9/11 attacks.