By Ros Krasny
BOSTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry said on Tuesday Washington lawmakers need the equivalent of a 12-step addiction-fighting program to break their overspending habit.
"Admit you are powerless over your spending addiction and that your budget has become unmanageable. Just admit it," Perry said in a speech to a conservative public policy group in Boston.
Excess federal spending is "generational theft" that "jeopardizes our children's futures," said Perry, calling for "sound fiscal policies that remove the millstone that will sink future generations."
Perry spoke at the Pioneer Institute's annual "better government competition" awards dinner -- an appearance scheduled months before the Texas governor jumped into the race for the White House in August.
Running on a record of strong jobs creation in Texas and what he calls "common-sense conservative," Perry has jumped to a lead in polls among Republicans vying to run against President Barack Obama in the November 2012 election.
But front-runner status has meant stepped-up attacks on Perry, including a focus in Monday's CNN/Tea Party debate on his view that the popular Social Security retirement program is the equivalent of an illegal Ponzi scheme.
Perry was unapologetic and said some of his rivals are happy to criticize the program -- until pressed.
"When it comes to Social Security, every Republican candidate knows that the current system is unsustainable," he said. But other candidates "start sounding like liberals" when pressed on the need to change the program, Perry said.
Perry also criticized Obama, terming the nation's army of unemployed a tragedy and calling new regulations introduced by the Obama administration job killers.
Perry spoke hours after his campaign got a major boost with the endorsement of Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval.
Nevada falls third among 2012 Republican primaries and caucuses, preceded only by Iowa and New Hampshire, according to the current calendar.
"Governor Rick Perry has the strongest record of job creation, fiscal discipline, and executive branch leadership among the presidential candidates," Sandoval, Nevada's first Hispanic governor, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Bill Trott)