The Campaign Spot

Election-driven news and views . . . by Jim Geraghty.

Whatever Happened to H. Ross Perot?


When the Tea Parties appeared on the scene in 2009, some argued that they seemed to be the second coming of the supporters of H. Ross Perot — right-leaning but wary of the traditional leadership of the Republican party, deeply concerned about budgetary and debt issues, and generally disgusted with Washington and incumbents.

With Mitt Romney breaking out the whiteboard, and with a debt, deficits, and entitlement-reform wonk now on the GOP ticket, folks like Ezra Klein and Virginia Postrel were making comparisons to Perot’s movement in 1992 (and to a lesser extent, 1996).

Perot is now 82, and has largely disappeared from the political scene . . . until this morning, when his name appeared under an op-ed in USA Today, co-written with (or at least co-attributed to) David Walker, former U.S. comptroller general.

Perot and Walker announce “the Comeback America Initiative (CAI),” which “is partnering with other organizations and individuals on a nationwide fiscal responsibility bus tour.”

While most of us would applaud anything designed to nudge the government towards greater fiscal responsibility, it’s unclear that a bus tour in the final two months before the election will break through the cacophony of campaign season, and the few proposals listed in Perot’s op-ed are not so inspiring:

For example, we’ll be discussing bipartisan ideas such as “no budget, no pay,” which would stipulate that if Congress fails to pass a budget and required spending bills by the end of a fiscal year, the members would not get paid until they fulfilled this responsibility.

That sounds lovely, but there are a few problems. For starters, to enact a “no budget, no pay” rule, Congress would have to pass it — and even then, it would only be able to influence the pay rules for the next Congress. Check the Twenty-Seventh Amendment:

No law, varying the compensation for the services of the Senators and Representatives, shall take effect, until an election of Representatives shall have intervened.

I’m reminded of the 2009 New Jersey’s governor’s race, when independent Chris Daggett proposed “abolishing pensions and health-care benefits for part-time legislators, aides and political appointees.” That would be swell, but you would be trying to persuade the state legislature to cut their own benefits and pensions. Perot & Co. will be attempting to persuade Congress to make their (future) pay contingent upon their colleagues’ ability to pass a budget and required appropriations bills.

The rest of Perot and Walker’s op-ed is frustratingly even-handed, as it behaves as if neither party has offered any ideas on the national problems they lament. I realize a USA Today op-ed is short, and the primary purpose of the column is to announce the bus tour. But if they really want to advance the cause of reform, they really ought to go out and endorse the candidates who are actually proposing and pushing for those reforms. They write:

We’ll highlight specific reforms to our major social insurance programs, such as changing current benefit formulas and premium support models to provide greater relative support to lower income individuals.

Gee, who has proposed an audacious idea like that on Medicare? And which party has demonized and demagogued the idea?

We’ll also talk about ideas for reining in health care costs, such as changing the way we pay for medical care — moving away from fee-for-service and toward “outcomes based” payments — and reforming our medical malpractice system.

Hey, which party made sure there were no malpractice- or tort-reform elements in a gargantuan health-care bill passed in 2010?

Yet another area for discussion we’ll explore is how to reform our tax code to make it simpler, fairer and generate more revenue by closing various tax “loopholes.”

This isn’t really a problem. Both parties want to close “loopholes”; they just disagree on what constitutes a “loophole.”

We need to hear from both presidential candidates, as well as candidates for other federal offices, regarding how they propose to address these issues.

Have these guys been in a cave for the past year?

At the presidential level, we know exactly what our options are. The problems Perot and Walker describe existed on Obama’s first day as president, and most of them — weak economic growth, huge deficit and debt burdens, declining public faith in government and confidence in the future — have stagnated or gotten worse. Four more years of Obama is going to look a lot like the past two years; Obama’s hope for an active agenda in January 2013 presumes that House Republicans will be ready to capitulate on the issue of tax increases. With a President Romney, the odds of enacting serious budget cuts, serious entitlement reform, and serious tax simplification are much higher.

Tags: H. Ross Perot


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