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.
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.