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The 2012 Hopefuls: Rick Perry

Learn about the former GOP presidential candidate and his views on Social Security, Medicare and more

James Richard "Rick" Perry
(Dropped out of race on Jan. 19, 2012)

Born: March 4, 1950, in Paint Creek, Texas

Job history: governor of Texas, 2000-present; lieutenant governor, commissioner of agriculture, 1991-99; Texas state representative, 1985-91; U.S. Air Force, 1972-77

Education: B.S., Texas A&M University

Personal: Married to Anita (Thigpen) Perry; Methodist

Campaign website:

Rick Perry's campaign has already been a roller-coaster ride. Having initially insisted he was not interested in the presidency, Perry quickly shot to the top of the polls after announcing in August. But poor debate performances and gaffes have since brought him down to the middle of the pack. A former Democrat, Perry is a determined anti-tax, small-government conservative. "I'll promise you this: I'll work every day to try to make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can," Perry declared in his announcement speech. Despite his late entry into the race, Perry's support among Tea Party activists and his natural fundraising base in Texas give him important campaign assets.

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid

All of the Republican contenders have underscored the need for some kind of entitlement reform, but Perry has been arguably the most aggressive in his criticism of what he argues are financially unsustainable programs. "Whether it's Social Security, whether it's Medicaid, whether it's Medicare, you've got $115 trillion worth of unfunded liability in those three. They're bankrupt. They're a Ponzi scheme," Perry told Newsweek in 2010. Under fire for his comments, Perry recently appeared to back off that stark assessment during a GOP debate in Florida, calling Social Security a "solemn oath" that should be honored for people approaching retirement. In a CNN interview last November, Perry said he was open to the idea of raising the retirement age. In his book Fed Up! Perry calls Social Security a "failure" that "we have been forced to accept for more than 70 years now." On both Medicare and Medicaid, Perry has also called for more flexibility. In January, he signed an open letter to President Obama from governors calling for an end to the "one size fits all" approach to Medicaid. He does not favor getting rid of the Medicare prescription drug benefit.

Taxes and budget

Perry is strongly anti-tax and proudly points to Texas's low tax burden — including its lack of a state income tax — as the impetus behind the state's job growth during the recession. "Spreading the wealth punishes success while setting America on course for a greater dependency on government," Perry said on his campaign website. In Texas, Perry called for reducing spending and cutting bureaucracy to balance the budget without raising taxes, a pattern he also applies to the federal budget.


Texas is a big state, and Perry had big plans for enabling people to traverse it: He proposed a Trans-Texas Corridor, a 4,000-mile network that would be built and operated in part by private industry, including a Spanish consortium. The plan was killed in 2009 amid concerns that it would demand too much land and bring crime to rural areas.

Susan Milligan is a prize-winning Washington reporter.

Also of interest: AARP’s voter education guide.

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