What Rick Perry Means When He Says He’ll Go Around Congress

Today, in Pittsburgh, Rick Perry rolled out the energy portion of his jobs plan that he spent the entire Tuesday debate discussing. Michele Bachmann accuses him of lifting it. That’s amusing – which candidate doesn’t favor more drilling, exactly? – she’s on to something. From her statement:

I am the only candidate with a comprehensive framework to grow the economy, create jobs, unleash potential for American energy, and reform the tax code; the major distinction is that I will implement my framework without abusing executive power.

That actually stings. Perry’s claim that he “wouldn’t need Congress” to create jobs was one of the tinniest parts of his pitch on Tuesday. Joshua Green’s essential new Perry profile explains exactly what the governor meant.

In 2006 the state’s largest electric utility, TXU Energy, announced plans to build 11 coal-fired power plants. This would have helped meet an obvious need. Texas is unique in having an electricity grid separate from the rest of the country’s, built that way in the 1930s to avoid federal oversight. But this makes it difficult to import power when there are shortages. Rolling blackouts are a continual problem.

The source of the new power—coal—guaranteed an outcry. Rather than go out and try to build support, Perry bypassed the public and the legislature and issued an executive order accelerating the permits, thereby intensifying the opposition. He argued, correctly, that the state needed to generate more power. But he either didn’t anticipate or didn’t care who would object—not only environmentalists but also whole swaths of suburban Republicans. Perry’s order was challenged in court and found unconstitutional. A private equity group later bought TXU and scrapped most of the plans.

As far as she’s fallen, Bachmann still has a strong mind-meld with Republican voters. This is really not how they imagine the president behaving. This doesn’t even seem necessary.