The Washington Times - November 15, 2011, 07:18PM

House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer told me that Republican presidential candidates Rick Perry is just “pandering to the Tea Party” when he called for a part-time Congress. 

hoyerIn a speech on Tuesday morning, the Texas governor said that he wants to get rid of the “permanent political class in the legislative branch.” To do so, Mr. Perry said he would “create a part-time Congress where their pay is cut in half, their office budgets are cut in half, and their time in Washington is cut in half. And if they do not submit a budget that balances by 2020, as my plan calls for, we should cut their pay in half again.” 

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A half hour later, I asked Mr. Hoyer to respond to Mr. Perry’s comments. At first the second ranking Democrat in the House made a joke about Mr. Perry’s forgetting the Energy Department in a debate. “I have heard that name, yes, oh, he is the one that  has three, yes, I can’t remember what they are,” said the Maryland Democrat. 

“He’s about to cut your salary,” I responded. “Do you think Congress needs to be here full-time?”

“This is a serious proposal he is making? For a country  that has very high unemployment, whose budget deficit is larger than it’s ever been in history, would have two wars that we’re confronting and trying to bring to conclusion?” Mr. Hoyer asked rhetorically. 

“If this is what he thinks is pandering to the Tea Party, it is not, in my opinion, speaking to the issues that the American public feels are very, very critical to them -  jobs being the number one issue. So I don’t think it’s a very serious effort on his part,” he said. 

Several hours later, Mr. Perry was on Sean Hannity’s radio show and used the opportunity to dispute Mr. Hoyer’s characterization of his proposals. “When people like Steny Hoyer come out there and go, ‘Is this guy being serious?’ Yeah, you better believe it Steny. They’re serious about the spending that’s going on. They’re serious about insider trading that it’s obvious Congressional men and women are involved with - and things that if a private citizen did they’d send you to the penitentiary.”

The Lone Star State chief executive went on to say that, “It’s not a surprise to me when I laid out this fundamental reform that I talk about and ask the American people to consider a part-time citizen Congress, that career politicians like Steny Hoyer don’t like my plan to overhaul Washington. They’re making a great living up there.”

Mr. Hoyer did concede that defending Congress was not going to make him very popular with the American people. “I don’t mean that people don’t think that maybe you send Congress home. They’re not happy with Congress. I’m not happy with Congress,” he said. “I think that we are at about 8 percent favorability.”

I interjected: “You are up to 13 percent.”

“We are up to 13,” he said, smiling. “That means there are 87 percent that know what’s going on. The other 13 really haven’t learned how poor we are doing.” 

It seems Mr. Hoyer and Mr. Perry agree on one thing: Congress is not working.