Carl Leubsdorf: Perry is full of strong opinions, woefully short on real solutions

Carl Leubsdorf

The Dallas Morning News

Published: Friday, Sept. 16 2011 12:00 a.m. MDT

Republican presidential hopeful, Texas Gov. Rick Perry.

Associated Press

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry has a lot of strong views. But so far, the man who has soared to the top of the Republican presidential polls doesn't have many specific proposals.

That was evident in Monday night's CNN-tea party-sponsored debate, Perry's second encounter with his GOP rivals.

In part, this reflects the fact that he only entered the race a month ago and is inexperienced in talking about the details of federal issues. It could prove to be a problem in the high-profile, high-stakes world of presidential debates if it persists.

On most issues, with the notable exception of immigration, Perry delighted the crowd of enthusiastic conservatives with pointed rejoinders at President Obama or his rivals, notably former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

But when asked his ideas for dealing with major problems, he was far less specific. Romney, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and even businessman Herman Cain cited specific proposals or volunteered their plans for undoing Obama's health care plan.

Here are some examples of how Perry avoided specifics:

Social Security: Renewing his assertion that the retirement system is a "Ponzi scheme," Perry said, "no one's had the courage to stand up and say, 'here is how we're going to reform it.'"

Including Perry.

And when pressed by Romney to say if he still believes, as he suggested in his book "Fed Up" and said in some interviews, that it should not be a federal program but returned to the states, he sidestepped the question, though he said that, after 70 or 80 years, "we're not going to take that program away."

At one point, he asked if there are "ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or retirees" and called for "thoughtful conversations in this country about how to fix that program." But he didn't elaborate.

Budget control: When moderator Wolf Blitzer asked, during a discussion about the budget deficit, if Perry would push to eliminate the prescription drug program passed under former President George W. Bush without offsetting revenue to pay for it, Perry went in another direction.

"It's a $17 trillion hole that we have in our budget we've got to deal with," he replied, citing the projected national debt when the next president takes office. "I think that's the issue of, how do you find the savings and still deliver the services."

Perry noted he saved $5.3 billion by consolidating health and human services agencies in Texas, adding there likely is more "waste and fraud" in the federal government.

Economic growth: When Perry was asked if he supports President Obama's job creation proposal, he denounced this and prior Obama plans, inaccurately claiming the 2009 stimulus bill created "zero jobs." He said what's needed is to "quit the spending. Give clear regulatory relief and reform the tax code."

And when asked if tax cuts have to be balanced with spending cuts, he said "people are tired of spending money we don't have on programs we don't want." That's at best half right since polls show the public is reluctant to cut almost everything except foreign aid.

As time goes on, he'll have to provide more specifics. And imprecise answers weren't Perry's only problem Monday night.

His support of scholarships for illegal immigrants in Texas seemed especially unpopular with conservative tea party types who generally like his ideas. Ironically, that position could help him in a general election, while his Social Security stance could hurt.

Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News. Email: carl.p.leubsdorf@gmail.com.

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