From Arlette Saenz and Michael Falcone:
DES MOINES, Iowa — Rick Perry sounded today like a presidential candidate who doesn’t simply want to fix Washington, but one who wants to demolish it.
“Some think we can fix Washington with a pair of tweezers, nibbling around the edges if you will,” Perry said at a town hall meeting here. “I happen to think we need to take a sledgehammer to it.”
In the same speech, Perry found an even more destructive metaphor, saying that he wanted to “take a wrecking ball” to the Washington establishment.
Perry, whose book “Fed Up!” lambasts the federal government for playing too large a role in people’s lives, launched a series of attacks on Congress, which he said was “out of control,” and the Internal Revenue Service.
“The IRS has actually gone from a tax collection agency to a taxpayer harassment agency,” Perry said. “On top of the high taxes, Americans pay almost $400 billion to just file their taxes each year. The word, or I should say the phrase, ‘IRS audit’ may be the scariest phrase in American lexicon. The day my flat tax lets Americans file their taxes on a postcard is the day that we end the IRS as we know it.”
The Texas governor, who is struggling to find his way back up in the polls both nationally and in this critical early nominating state, sharpened his criticism of Washington by harping on legislators’ penchant for earmarks.
“Congress is out of control as well, despite all the promises of reform, and earmarks are still a part of the congressional addiction and I’m going to make Congress a promise,” Perry said. “I’m going to help them kick their addiction. Kick their habit. Cold turkey. I will veto any budget that contains earmarks, period. It doesn’t make any difference if it’s Republicans or Democrats. I don’t think the congressional spenders will give up their tricks that easily, so I’ll bring my own barrel of ink for my veto pen. Thank you very much.”
The message Perry brought to the forum, which was organized by the University of Phoenix, a distance learning college, was not only about Washington, it was also about his rival for the Republican nomination, Mitt Romney, who he characterized as part of the “establishment.”
Perry did not name names, but he didn’t have to. He alluded to “one of my opponents” who has a “59-point plan” for fixing the economy, an obvious reference to the former Massachusetts governor.
“There is a clear choice, I happen to think, in this race between the status quo tinkerers and those who represent the establishment and those that support bailouts — they opposed major tax reforms, such as the flat tax — and my approach, which is to take a wrecking ball to the Washington, D.C., establishment with fundamental reform of our tax code, stopping the spending binge and ending the gravy train for those Beltway lobbyists,” Perry said.
Perry, who placed fifth in a recent Des Moines Register poll, joked with his town hall audience about some of his less-than-stellar debate performances. “I hope you missed it,” Perry said of one recent debate.
“I hate debates like I used to hate spinning in aircraft, T-37s and finally I did it and did it and did it enough that I finally got pretty good at it, so hold on,” he said. “Maybe I’ll get better at debates, too.”
The town hall featured participants from Phoenix; Tampa, Fla.; and Irving, Texas, posing their questions on topics ranging from education to predicting the next economic boom in the country.