'Drill, baby, drill': Rick Perry's answer to '9-9-9' tax plan?

Rick Perry is touting domestic energy production as a way to kick-start the US economy. His hope may be to match Herman Cain's '9-9-9' tax plan for voter appeal – and revive his presidential campaign.

Keith Srakocic/AP
Republican presidential candidate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry speaks about energy and environmental regulations at the United States Steel Mon Valley Works Irvin Plant in West Mifflin, Pa., on Friday.

Rick Perry’s presidential campaign is floundering. Can the mantra of “drill, baby, drill” revive it and send Governor Perry’s poll numbers back up into the top tier?

OK, so the Texas governor did not use that exact phrase Friday in his speech on energy policy at a steel mill in West Mifflin, Pa. “Drill, baby, drill” was coined by former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele in an address to the Republican National Convention in 2008.

But Perry clearly hopes that the spirit of that phrase, which combines an emphasis on domestic energy production with implicit criticism of limits imposed by the Obama White House and the Environmental Protection Agency, will earn him a second look with voters who have drifted to the new conservative hope, Herman Cain.

Perry’s new plan calls for oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, as well as in wider areas of Alaska’s Arctic coast. He also wants to open the eastern Gulf of Mexico, as well as the US Atlantic coast, to oil rigs.

Perry is also pushing a faster permitting process for Gulf areas where drilling is already permitted. Overall, he said, his plan would kick-start US economic growth and create 1.2 million new US jobs.

“It can be implemented quickly and free of Washington gridlock because most of it does not require congressional action. Through a series of executive orders and other executive actions we will begin the process of creating jobs soon after the inauguration of a new president,” said Perry on Friday.

Hmmm. We guess some Perry advisers have been watching how much mileage Mr. Cain has gotten out of his easy-to-grasp “9-9-9” tax plan. “Why don’t we get ourselves some of that?” they may have asked. Now they’re trying to brand Perry as a domestic energy guy as a result.

It might work. Texas is an oil-producing state, after all, so voters might be predisposed to see Perry as a leader in the field of energy production. It’s a plan that directly challenges the incumbent, and GOP voters are thirsting for a champion to lead them to Washington’s Promised Land.

What’s more, “drill more” is a simple policy proposal. It will give Perry a phrase to repeat over and over in public appearances, as Cain does with “9-9-9.”

But here’s the catch: Cain scooted along with low poll numbers so long that his opponents and the media gave “9-9-9” a free pass. It is only now, after Cain has risen to front-runner status and the phrase has been drilled into GOP voter heads, that opponents have started to try to pick it apart.

Perry won’t get that kind of slack. The punditocracy is already pointing out some of the obvious flaws in the ointment. (Or is that flies in the plan? We forget.) The first of these is litigation – despite the power of executive action, the nation’s environmental groups have decades of experience fighting stuff like this in the courts. They might lose, but they can buy lots of time in the trying.

This morning on NBC Matt Lauer pointed out to Perry that the lawsuits alone would take years to get through the courts. If that’s the case, how can Perry say the actions would create jobs within 100 days?

Here’s Perry’s answer in full: “Well, I’m not sure that you have to have that type of legal system that locks down the opening up of our federal lands and waters. We passed some significant tort reform in Texas. I think you need to do that at the federal level to stop that type of activities, shorten the permitting periods of time,” said Perry on NBC’s “Today” show.

That’s right – we’ll expedite the process by engaging in something that will take even longer. Federal tort reform might be good policy, or it might not, but it won’t be a quick change. Lawsuits about limiting lawsuits are a double flip that can take longer than the original lawsuits themselves.

Still, as a marketing idea, “drill-drill-drill” most likely will appeal to the GOP constituency. For the moment, that’s what Perry really needs.

“We are standing atop the next American economic boom ... energy. The quickest way to give our economy a shot in the arm is to deploy American ingenuity to tap American energy,” Perry said Friday.

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