WASHINGTON — In January, after David Perdue was sworn in to the Senate, the Georgia Republican had his staff gather down the street from the Capitol for their first-ever meeting together.
Inside the rotunda of the National Archives—where original copies of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are housed—the former CEO of Dollar General was trying to convey a sense of purpose to his team.
“I was basically saying, ‘Look this is bigger than us. There is something very special going on here,’” Perdue recalled telling his staff in an interview with The Daily Caller in his Capitol Hill office last week.
“A guy like me from the outside of politics getting elected, I felt like there was something special going on,” Perdue said. “We’ve got a crisis going on right now and we’ve got an opportunity to do something to affect that. And I basically reminded them that I didn’t want to be a member of the first generation in American history that had to tell their kids, ‘I’m leaving you a country worse off than my dad gave me.’”
Until November, Perdue had never been elected to public office. (He isn’t a complete stranger to politics, though: his first cousin is former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue).
But about two months into his term, Perdue seems to relish coming in as an outsider to an institution that includes people who’ve been around for 40 years.
“I just think that outside perspective is the biggest asset I bring here,” Perdue said. “Bigger than the CEO background.”
Perdue — who sits on the budget, foreign relations, agriculture and judiciary committees — says he thinks he can especially add value, as a former CEO, to budget issues.
“I’m using the crisis word because I really believe we’re so far past the tipping point that it’s almost unmanageable,” Perdue said. “Here’s why I say this: We already have 18 to 20 trillion dollars of debt. If interest rates were at their 30-year historic rate of five and a half percent, we’d already be paying a trillion dollars in interest almost.”
“That’s not manageable,” Perdue added. “That’s twice what we spend on the Department of Defense. That’s more than we spend on our total discretionary budget. And that’s just not workable. So I’m not looking for a balanced budget, I’m looking for a surplus budget to help begin paying this down.”
But while Perdue — who has led a number of other companies, including Reebok—often stresses his business background, he’s still adjusting to the difference of being one of 100 rather than at the top of a company.
“As the CEO, I could drive the priorities of the company,” he said. “It was my job, along with the people around me, to determine those priorities. In a political process, its not that easy, particularly when you have the partisanship that we have. It’s really hard to drive the priorities. And you can see that in the first two months.”
“There are some smart people here, I will tell you that, on both sides,” Perdue added. “If we could ever get people to focus on what we agree on and stop bickering about what we disagree on we could get some of these things fixed.”
During his campaign, Perdue emphasized his desire for term-limits for legislators, something he says he still strongly supports.
After he was sworn in, Perdue co-sponsored a bill limiting senators to serving two six-year terms. He has also pledged to abide by that on his own. “I’m only going to be here, at max, two terms.”
“Last Congress, there were 36 senators who had been an elected officer for over 30 years,” Perdue said. “I just don’t think that the founders ever even dreamed of that as a possibility.”