WASHINGTON — Continuing to emphasize religious values as the Iowa caucuses loom, Gov. Rick Perry said Wednesday that “bringing America back begins with faith.”
“Our nation was founded on the principle of religious liberty,” Perry said at a candidates forum hosted by the Republican Jewish Coalition. “Faith and freedom are the fiber of our nation. … My faith will guide me as your president.”
Perry's remarks came a day after his campaign unveiled an Iowa ad targeting evangelical voters. He is polling in the single digits alongside former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum in Iowa, whose caucuses are less than a month away.
The Texas governor used part of his time on the forum stage to push his “part-time Congress” proposal, which has been met with mixed reviews on Capitol Hill.
At one point, he referred to a familiar audience member, state Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, to bolster his claim that lawmakers would do better to spend more time in their districts, as Texas legislators do.
“Let them go home and work a job like the rest of the legislatures do in other states and live under the laws that they have,” Perry said. “Florence and her colleagues, they have regular jobs back home. We meet for 140 days every other year. We’re the 13th-largest economy in the world, and we’re able to get our work done.”
Perry also hit President Obama on Israel. In contrast to his call to zero out and reassess foreign aid, Perry promised that in his administration, “strategic defensive aid” to Israel would increase.
And the governor lashed out at Obama for across-the-board cuts to the Pentagon budget that could come as the result of a congressional committee’s failure to come up with a deficit-reduction plan last month.
He said defense spending has already fallen prey in some instances to “misguided austerity that will not balance our budget.”
“We must demand action in Congress to block these cuts that will threaten to hollow out our forces,” Perry said.
Turning to immigration, Perry criticized the federal government for not doing enough to help Texas secure its border with Mexico. He said the border would be “shut down and secured” within a year of his becoming president through more “boots on the ground” and aerial surveillance.
An audience member asked Perry how he would replace Obama’s health care law after repealing it, saying, “You haven’t had a great record in Texas with insuring people.” (In 2009, according to U.S. census data, Texas ranked first among all states in the percentage of its citizens who didn't have health insurance.)
Perry disagreed, citing tort reform as one reason “we have a record in the state of Texas of taking care of our people.” He said he liked ideas from House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., about how to make Medicare more affordable and available, but he declined to go into detail. As he has often done, he called on the federal government to give the state more control over its health care through waivers.
The subject was set to remain on Perry’s agenda after the forum Wednesday: He was expected to head to a meeting of the Congressional Health Care Caucus at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Lewisville.