Jeb Bush listed Monday a few proposals that he would push for as president to “disrupt” Washington, including a dock in pay for members of Congress who miss votes and a six year cooling period banning former lawmakers from becoming lobbyists.
Speaking in Tallahassee, Florida — where Bush served for eight years as governor — the presidential candidate used examples from his past to show how he would lead from the Oval Office.
It’s all part of an effort for Bush to reenforce the idea that even though he has a famous political last name, he’d still be an outsider who could take on “Mount Washington,” as he puts it.
“It will not be my intention to preside over the establishment, but in every way I know to disrupt that establishment and make it accountable to the people,” he said.
It was the first of a series of policy speeches that Bush will give.
He touted that his administration reduced the state workforce by 11% and said as president, his first reform would be placing a freeze on federal hiring for five years and operate on a three-out, one-in rule — “only one new hire for every three who leave.”
For those employees who come up with cost-cutting methods, his administration would reward them financially, while letting go of employees who aren’t performing up to par.
“Obviously, federal employees should retain civil rights and whistleblower protections. But beyond that, the time it takes to remove an unproductive employee should be measured in weeks rather than years,” he said.
He also recycled proposals from his administration to help tamp down lobbying, saying he would call for any meeting between lawmakers and lobbyists to be disclosed on the lawmaker’s official website.
And in what could be a shot at some of his presidential rivals who work in the Senate — and who have missed votes because of the campaign trail — Bush called for financial penalties for elected officials who don’t show up.
“A bill to dock the pay of absentee members might not pass the House or Senate, but at least it would get them all there for a vote,” he said. “If we can’t always get them on the job, let’s at least get them on the record.”
To help scale back the revolving door in Washington, Bush wants to enact rules that would prevent ex-members of Congress from going into lobbying.
“We need to help politicians to rediscover life outside of Washington DC, which — who knows? — might even be a pleasant surprise for them,” he said.
He also floated the idea of letting the U.S. president acquire line item veto power and pledged to submit a Balanced Budget Amendment to Congress.
Democrats, however, were quick to argue that Bush was elevating his record, saying he was already required by law to balance the budget every year as governor and that spending actually rose under his administration
“Bush’s talk of government reform is nothing but thin air,” said Christina Freundlich, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee, in a statement.
Being an outsider
Taking on the status quo is a popular sentiment for presidential candidates. Scott Walker brands himself as a fighter who’s embraced David vs. Goliath challenges. Ted Cruz has been unabashed in his willingness to buck his own party in Congress.
Donald Trump has also adopted the label as the outsider who’s eager to fix the country’s problems, saying his business experience and independent wealth make him the antidote to longtime politicians.
Trump has especially latched on to attacking Bush, accusing the candidate of “doing favors” for donors and lobbyists in exchange for his impressive fundraising figures.
With Bush persistently at the top of the polls, it’s no surprise that he has a target on his back. But washing away that insider label can be a complicated task for him.
“I think it’s difficult for someone with the last name of Bush to say they’re going to take on Washington,” said Matthew Corrigan, a professor of politics at the University of North Florida who authored “Conservative Hurricane,” a book about Bush’s time as governor.
“But he does have a clear record here in Florida of doing some big things, especially with education, and even in the social and cultural area, as well.”
Reforming the nation’s regulatory process and tax code have been major topics of his on the campaign trail, and he frequently points to the 2,500 line item vetoes he made as governor. He rarely holds a campaign event without mentioning that his critics called him “Veto Corleone,” something that he says he’s proud of.
He also talks about cutting taxes to the tune of $19 billion and creating $2 billion in savings. In fact, the only time he has criticized his brother, George W. Bush, this year came when he argued that Bush didn’t put enough pressure on Republicans in Congress to rein in spending.
A passionate policy wonk, Bush gets excited when he talks about the more nuanced levels of government and how to address issues on a micro-level. He was known to be intimately involved as governor, emailing low-level bureaucrats to ask detailed questions.
“He’s not an incrementalist. He’s not a small step leader,” Corrigan said. “If he did become president, I think you would see a lot of changes in the way the federal government does business.”
Whether his message will break through in a crowded Republican primary that includes a number of other current and former governors is yet to be seen.
But Bush isn’t lacking in confidence. He laughed last week when he was asked by a reporter if he’ll be able to break through the gridlock in Washington. “I think so,” he replied. “It’s a low bar.”
“That’s like saying ‘Can you walk from here to there?'” he added, pointing to the other side of the room. “I think I might be able to make it — unless you tackle me.”