By Pat Kessler

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — “It’s three agencies of government, when I get there, that are gone,” said Rick Perry in a CNBC debate Wednesday, during which he became famous for what he couldn’t say. “Commerce, Education and the … um, what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”

Energy was the third department of the federal government Perry could not remember. But forget, for a moment, Perry’s memory lapse. Can he even do that?

IN FACT, a president cannot simply abolish federal departments. Only Congress can do that, with the president’s blessing.

It rarely happens. Republican candidates in 2011 are proposing to eliminate at least nine departments and agencies including the three Perry intended to mention — Commerce, Education and Energy — but also the Federal Reserve, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Transportation Security Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Internal Revenue Service.

This is nothing new, but here’s what you NEED TO KNOW. Newt Gingrich promised in 1994 to abolish the same departments, but was stymied by a Democratic President.

But even when Republicans had the House and Senate and the White House from 2002 through 2006, no departments were ever abolished.

The last state department abolished was the Department of Health Education and Welfare under Democrat Jimmy Carter in 1979. The last Department created was the Department of Homeland Security under George W. Bush in 2002.

Here are some of the sources we used for this Reality Check:

History, success of abolishing state departments:

Control of the US Government, 2002-2006:
Congressional Calendar
New York Times

Contract With America, 1994:
Contract with America

Plans to Downsize government:

History of Federal Departments & Agencies:

2012 GOP Presidential Candidate websites:
Herman Cain
Michele Bachmann
Newt Gingrich
Jon Huntsman
Ron Paul
Rick Perry
Mitt Romney
Rick Santorum


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