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Bush back in Tallahassee calling for D.C. reforms

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush returned Monday to Tallahassee, where he spent eight years as governor, to introduce proposals for fixing the federal government.

Bush, seeking to portray himself as a Washington outsider, laid out plans for civil-service and congressional reforms, including plans to push for constitutional amendments that would require a balanced budget and give the president line-item veto power on appropriation bills.

"I'm offering a different agenda altogether," Bush said "It will be my intention not to preside over the establishment, but in every way I know to disrupt that establishment and make it more accountable for the people."

The morning speech, given in front of a giant screen displaying the message "Reform DC," drew about 500 supporters, many with ties to Bush dating back to his days in the governor's mansion.

People who attended the rally at Florida State University's Augustus B. Turnbull III Florida State Conference Center said framing a vision was always one of Bush's strong points.

"He set the point off in the distance and said that's where we want to go and this is how we're going to get there," said Gus Corbella, a lobbyist with the firm Greenberg Traurig who served as a chief of staff to the state Senate president while Bush was in office. "And if you rally and inspire people with a message that everyone can understand and get around, then you can get it done. And he's proven he can do that."

Ed Moore, longtime president of the Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, said Bush's "strength of personality" is how he was able to create change in Tallahassee.

"His strength of personality is that he does things that you probably don't like, or wouldn't want to have happen if you were a lobbyist, and when it's all done, you still like him," said Moore, who spent two years as House staff director during Bush's first term. "He'll go to D.C. and he'll get pushback. He got pushed back in Tallahassee when he first came here. But he'll get them done."

Democrats questioned claims that Bush's policies, not the housing boom, were behind Florida's economic growth during his years in Tallahassee. They also were quick to note the Bush family's long insider ties to Washington, where his father and a brother both served as president.

"It's hard to think of a plan less likely to change the way Washington works than a Bush running for president promising to change the way Washington works," said state Democratic Party spokesman Max Steele. "It's also hard to take his proposals to reform lobbying seriously when he delivered his speech to a roomful of applauding Tallahassee lobbyists."

Bush, who was elected governor in 1998 and re-elected in 2002, was introduced by a video featuring state Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who reminisced about the former governor heavily wielding a veto pen.

"The speaker of the House coined the term 'Veto Corleone,' because no one was safe from Jeb Bush's veto pen," Latvala said in the video.

Bush said in making more than 2,000 budget vetoes he grew to accept the "Veto Corleone" moniker with pride, and he noted to his "so many friends" during his 30-minute presentation that he had found "joy" in campaigning.

Labeling his task as taking on "Mount Washington," Bush envisioned the challenge as being similar to when he came to Tallahassee, viewing his task starting in 1999 as reforming "Mount Tallahassee."

Bush's ideas include pursuing ethics changes that would prohibit members of Congress from joining lobbying firms for six years after they leave office and requiring all meetings involving members of Congress with lobbyists or government-affairs consultants to be publicly posted weekly.

He also proposes to cut the federal workforce by 10 percent within four years through attrition and by allowing only a single new hire after three other people leave.

"Not everyone who leaves needs to be replaced," said Bush, who oversaw a reduction in approximately 13,000 state jobs during his eight years as governor.

He stayed away from international politics and said in the coming months he will have similar policy introductions on tax and regulatory reforms and a replacement for the Affordable Care Act. Bush touched lightly, without bringing up names, on a couple of his primary opponents.

The largest ovation came in calling U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., "a hero by the way."

The line was a response to fellow Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's comments in Iowa over the weekend that McCain "was not a war hero. He was a war hero because he was captured. I like people who weren't captured."

Bush called the comment "slanderous" on Twitter.

Bush also said he would like to dock pay of members of Congress who fail to show up for votes.

Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio, a Florida senator, and Ted Cruz, a Texas senator, rank among the highest for their careers in missing votes, according to data compiled by GovTrack.

"At least it would get them all there for a vote," Bush joked. "If we can't always get them on the job, let's at least get them on the record."