On truth tour, Pawlenty won’t commit on Ryan budget

Cato Institute founder and president Ed Crane listening as Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty delivers remarks on Wednesday.
REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Cato Institute founder and president Ed Crane listening as Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty delivers remarks on Wednesday.

WASHINGTON — Tim Pawlenty’s truth tour continued Wednesday, as the former Minnesota governor told a libertarian think tank that has labeled American military policy in Iraq and Afghanistan “part of America’s global overreach” that President Pawlenty wouldn’t cut the defense budget by a single red cent.

However, he declined to say whether, as president, he’d sign or veto the Paul Ryan budget that reshapes Medicare into a voucher-style program, saying he’d release his own plan in the coming weeks and months.

Everywhere he goes, former Gov. Tim Pawlenty tells the story of how, during his final year in office, the Cato Institute gave out report cards on the nation’s governors — and he was one of only four to get an “A.”

So it was perhaps inevitable that Pawlenty’s first appearance in the nation’s capital, before a who’s who throng of the nation’s political press, came at Cato, a libertarian-conservative think tank headquartered here.

Ed Crane, founder and president of the Cato Institute, introduced Pawlenty as having a “truly admirable record,” particularly for someone from Minnesota.

For the most part, Pawlenty repeated a stump speech that largely validated the group’s report card priorities. He called for reducing the federal workforce through attrition — by hiring fewer new employees to replace a growing number of retirees.

Pawlenty said he’d institute a federal pay freeze (though one is already in place, presumably he meant to continue it) and change the federal retirement scheme from a defined benefit into a defined contribution plan — basically switch from a pension-style system into a more 401K-style system.

And while he said he wasn’t trying to have a go at federal workers, per se, Pawlenty set the contrast between the public and private sector when in the first minutes of his speech he stated that “the American story is not a story about the American government, it’s a story about the American people,” Pawlenty said.

Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option tour
Pawlenty’s position on defense spending isn’t brand new. Neither is his position on eventually eliminating ethanol subsidies, or raising the retirement age for Social Security, or means testing cost of living increases in federal entitlement benefits. All of those have been part of his stump speech for months now.

But Pawlenty continued his recent streak of hopping into the proverbial lion’s den to say tough things that his audience presumably might not want to hear.

It started in Iowa Monday, where he announced his presidential campaign and pointedly mentioned to a state that’s most famous landmark is a baseball diamond cut out of a corn field that America must be weaned off ethanol subsidies.

It continued Tuesday in Florida, a state where so many Midwesterners move to escape those brutal winters in their golden years, where Pawlenty made sure to highlight his proposed cuts to entitlement spending. And he said it will continue when he heads to New York City to tell Wall Street that the days of federal bailouts are over in his administration.

It has been a good strategy for Pawlenty so far, with favorable editorials written lauding his choice of location-based tough talk. The Wall Street Journal editorial writers called Pawlenty’s Iowa ethanol jab “downright amazing.”  The Salt Lake Tribune editorial page, in a piece widely circulated by Team T-Paw, said “the man’s political courage should not be underestimated,” and further opined that the fact he wasn’t run out of Iowa on a rail suggests that “the candidate is perhaps not so much gutsy as he is well-attuned to the national mood.”

So here was Pawlenty, in front of a crowd of political press that outnumbered non-media attendees by some margin, again speaking some truth to a group that might not want to hear it.

Of course, Democrats blistered at the idea that Pawlenty was speaking anything that could be accurately described as “truth.” More like flippity flop, they said.

“Instead of sharing the ‘hard truth’ about his record, which the Cato Institute has repeatedly criticized, he continued to gloss over the fiscal disaster he left in Minnesota and run away from his past policy positions,” the DNC wrote atop a “fact sheet” that listed Pawlenty quotes above news stories detailing where they say he exaggerated or flip flopped from an earlier position.

Ryan budget
Pawlenty wouldn’t be drawn into the big issue of the day in D.C. – Paul Ryan’s budget, its overhaul of Medicare and whether or not that cost Republicans an otherwise reliable House seat in upstate New York.

Democrats took the Republican-leaning district, in the Buffalo-Rochester area, after a three-way campaign that was dominated by profligate outside spending and debates about the future of Medicare. Democrat Kathy Hochul’s successful candidacy was based in large part on tying her Republican opponent to Medicare, while a Tea Party third candidate caused a slight split in the GOP base.

Pawlenty deferred on the cause of that loss, saying “special elections are not the greatest barometer.”

Pawlenty, as he has done repeatedly, complimented Ryan on his “leadership” in releasing his plan, but wouldn’t say if he would support it, instead saying he’d release his own plan for Medicare. Asked about the merits of the Ryan plan, Pawlenty reminded that he’ll be releasing his own plan soon. A follow-up question yielded the timeline for that plan rollout of “the coming weeks and months.”

A Washington Post reporter asked Pawlenty what he thought the shortcomings of Ryan’s plan were, since he was differing in some areas. Pawlenty didn’t take the bait.

Just after the press conference concluded, I noted to Pawlenty that as president he wouldn’t always get bills exactly the way he’d like them and then asked him if, as president, he’d sign Ryan’s bill into law. Pawlenty said nothing as he walked toward a waiting car, got in, and was driven away.

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Comments (15)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 05/26/2011 - 09:12 am.

    As a skilled fisherman, Pawlenty knows all about not taking the bait. But republican politicians have no need to be cautious.

    I would have reminded those in attendance that the people who criticize Ryan’s ideas for how seniors will get their health care are the same people who supported Obama’s plan to cut $500 billion from it to help pay for Obamacare. A cut that went virtually unreported in the press.

  2. Submitted by Nathan Roisen on 05/26/2011 - 09:45 am.

    Like most politicians (of all political persuasions), Pawlenty’s ‘bravery’ is limited to the hypothetical and the abstract.

    Personally, I think pragmatism is the quality we need much more of in our government — bravery is an essentially meaningless concept in a place where right and wrong are subject to a million shades of gray (and dependent on the viewpoint of the observer)

  3. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 05/26/2011 - 10:07 am.

    Pawlenty on a “truth” tour is a contradiction in terms. This guy knows no truth beyond his own ambition.

  4. Submitted by Mark Wolski on 05/26/2011 - 11:06 am.

    An interesting article, if only because the truth in Pawlenty’s tour isn’t labeled as “truth.” We all have our forms of truth. Is what Mr. Pawlenty is professing our truth, his truth, the real truth? Alas, no one checks to see if his truth coincides with the reality of what is now occurring in Minnesota.

    In short, anyone can claim to tell the truth. Whether they do or not is another matter.

  5. Submitted by Virginia Martin on 05/26/2011 - 11:24 am.

    This is “bravery”? The polls just shifted and Pawlenty now is noncommital. Running to his car doesn’t look like courage to me.

  6. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 05/26/2011 - 12:26 pm.

    The “truth” is that he is afraid to stick his neck out right now. His plan will be released as soon as the polling numbers become clear, and as soon as the right-wing strategists have decided what he thinks.

  7. Submitted by Alicia DeMatteo on 05/26/2011 - 12:46 pm.

    “Violent Torpedo of Truth/Defeat is Not an Option tour”

    So the question remains: will this story end with #WINNING?

  8. Submitted by Brian Simon on 05/26/2011 - 01:29 pm.

    Dennis Tester writes
    “the people who criticize Ryan’s ideas for how seniors will get their health care are the same people who supported Obama’s plan to cut $500 billion from it to help pay for Obamacare”

    As I understand it, the cuts to Medicare contained within the Affordable Care Act involve cuts to Medicare Advantage, a voucher program that is more expensive than ‘normal’ Medicare, but with inferior results. The Ryan plan is similar to Medicare Advantage, where the gov’t gives taxpayers’ money to Medicare recipients in the form of vouchers that they use to buy insurance from non-gov’t health insurance providers.

    It seems quite consistent, to me, that people who criticize Ryan’s plan for funneling tax dollars to corporate insurance companies are also supporting the Affordable Care Act, which reduces that practice in Medicare Advantage.

  9. Submitted by Cecil North on 05/26/2011 - 02:18 pm.

    “As a skilled fisherman, Pawlenty knows all about [telling tall tales].” I get a feeling that the word “truth” is going to get quite a workout in the course of his campaign. Wonder if he will trademark it?

  10. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 05/26/2011 - 02:53 pm.

    Off the fence and into the wood-chipper:

    The end of Pawlenty’s fence-sitting came in a tweet from the Washington Post’s Amy Gardner. Politico’s Ben Smith posted this quote from Pawlenty:

    “If I can’t have my own plan — as president, I’ll have my own plan [but] if I can’t have that, and the bill came to my desk and I had to choose between signing or not Congressman Ryan’s plan, of course I would sign it.”
    (end quote)


  11. Submitted by Christopher Long on 05/26/2011 - 03:14 pm.

    Today Pawlenty said if he were president he would sign the Ryan budget.

    So the “won’t commit” headline & premise for the story are either wrong or no longer valid.


  12. Submitted by Tony George on 05/26/2011 - 03:35 pm.

    In the New York Times, it says Pawlenty finally said he supports the Republican budget plan which includes the plan to turn Medicare into vouchers.

  13. Submitted by Eric T on 05/27/2011 - 09:45 am.

    The comments here haven’t been very generous. You have to admit that the Medicare issue is tough. The Democrat’s position – to tax the rich to pay for the shortfall – is an easier position to take politically.

    But, give him the credit he is due. Ethanol subsidies are probably not a bad thing. If you’re not willing to subsidize the oil companies, I don’t see how you could justify subsidizing the ethanol industry. And telling the Iowans that ethanol subsidies should be phased out is a pretty brave thing to do. So, give credit where credit is due.

  14. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 05/27/2011 - 11:20 am.

    Mr. Tester — I’ll add a little to Brian Simon’s (#8) information on Medicare savings.

    There’s traditional Medicare fee-for-service and PRIVATE Medicare fee-for-service, which charges seniors the same monthly premium but which gives such bonuses as gym memberships that are not given to regular Medicare-covered seniors.
    Seniors and the government together thus fund these goodies that are designed to attract younger, healthier seniors away from traditional Medicare, thus weakening it while depleting funds that should go to health care.

    Once weakened enough to seriously hamper its current effectiveness, it can be abolished and ALL seniors tossed into the private insurance market to fend for themselves among the sharks who put profit before care and where there is no limit on what premium costs can rise to.

  15. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 05/27/2011 - 03:21 pm.

    As always, our ex-gov knows which way the wind is blowing. He promoted ethanol subsidies for Minnesota farmers for years, now flip-flops to catch the latest wave. I recall he’s done the same on cap-and-trade. He is not a leader, just a follower of public opinion and his own naked ambition. At list Michelle Bachman is philosophically honest.

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