DES MOINES — Texas Gov. Rick Perry delivered tough talk here Friday on reducing government regulations, and backed that up with a specific proposal that would allow credit unions to make bigger loans to small businesses.
Speaking before at least 200 people at the Iowa Credit Union League's annual convention, Perry found a receptive audience when he called for the federal government to lift the 1998 cap that limits credit unions to loaning businesses up to 12.25 percent of their assets, which he called arbitrary.
"Small businesses are having a difficult time getting credit from the large national banks," Perry said. "Local credit unions, you specialize in those smaller loans."
Hearing such advocacy was music to the ears of credit union executives, who said lifting the lending cap is a priority for them.
Iowa credit unions make average loans of $167,815 to businesses, or 8 percent of assets. The Credit Union National Association estimates that lifting the cap would bring 2,495 new jobs to Iowa, or 146,000 nationwide, because of the increased capital that would be injected into the economy. A bill before Congress would increase that lending cap to 27.5 percent.
"He brings a lot of promise," Dana Garrett, CEO of the Northwest Iowa Credit Union Community, said after hearing Perry speak. "I think he's got a great track record of creating jobs. I'm very intrigued and interested to see how he can apply some of that, should he be the candidate choice of America."
Garrett said she hasn't decided whom to support for president in 2012, but a key priority for her is a candidate who can stimulate the economy. She said she isn't fond of Minnesota U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, who said Monday at a Republican presidential debate in Texas that the HPV vaccine led one girl to become mentally retarded.
"I think that she doesn't do a lot of fact-checking before she speaks," Garrett said of Bachmann. "I'd like to see a little bit more of that."
This was Perry's third visit to Iowa since declaring his candidacy Aug. 13. His visits to central and western Iowa were marked by an exchange of attacks between him and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Recent polls show they are the two front-runners for the Republican nomination for president.
Perry called for repeal of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, saying the law would cost $27 billion in Texas alone. He compared the plan to the one implemented in Massachusetts under Romney.
"The model for socialized medicine has been tried before, and it didn't work. It failed miserably, whether it was in western Europe or in Massachusetts," Perry said. "In Massachusetts, the costs have increased by more than $8 billion. That's what that socialized, individual mandated, health-care bill that they put in place in Massachusetts did."
While Romney has been largely absent in Iowa, his campaign shot back Friday with news releases throughout the day.
The releases criticized Perry as being a "career politician" who has served since 1984. They said one in five Iowans receive benefits from Social Security, which they said Perry advocates dismantling. And they said the unemployment rate in Texas is 8.5 percent, more than twice as high as when Perry took office in December 2000.
Democrats also took aim at Perry. In a pre-emptive strike Thursday, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said Perry, like other Republican presidential candidates, wants to "double down on the same failed economic policies that got us here."
Texas state Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, said the nation shouldn't follow the example set by Perry, who, he said, cut $5 billion in public school funding.
"We have some of the most polluted air in Texas. We have one of the highest dropout rates, one of the highest rates of adult illiteracy, one of the highest percentages of people without health insurance," Strama said. "That's the real story of what's going on here in Texas."
Despite Perry's newness to the presidential race, he has developed a familiarity with Iowa. He referred to Gov. Terry Branstad by first name, saying, "Terry and I were talking," when saying that Branstad understands the importance of reducing government regulations on business.
He also touched upon the rivalry that Iowa has between two of its state universities, the University of Iowa and Iowa State University, when saying he wouldn't pick sides between banks and credit unions.
"A couple of people have tried to get me to take sides between credit unions and banks, and I told them, I said, well, that would kind of like picking between Iowa and Iowa State," Perry said, drawing a chuckle from the crowd. "I don't think I'll go there."
Lynn Campbell covers government and politics for IowaPolitics.com, which is owned by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.