Pawlenty on Hannity on Dems, dog-sitters and Michael Vick

Gov. Tim Pawlenty was on the Hannity show last night. He tried out a new punch line and it goes like this:

“Having the Democrats watch your money and keep an eye over your money is like having Michael Vick watch your dog for the weekend.”

Ba-rump bump.

Pawlenty Watch

The tone of mockery in the Vick joke is not a serious offense in the context of today’s partisan discourse. The rest of the interview was unremarkable, as Sean Hannity tried, but failed, to get Pawlenty to endorse the Hannitarian belief that the media is covering various other stories in a desperate effort to distract attention from the one mega-story (on Planet Hannity) which is President Obama’s declining poll ratings. (Yes, they are declining.)

But Pawlenty also restated what has been a standard TPaw line for several weeks now. He said this in a Chicago speech to Republican activists and he said it the last time he was Fox, to Greta van Susteren. Here’s the verbatim from the Chicago speech:

“The entitlement programs that the federal government currently runs are all broke and headed to bankruptcy. Medicare is bankrupt or essentially bankrupt. Medicaid is essentially bankrupt. Social Security is essentially bankrupt.

“Why in the heck would we give the federal government another entitlement program to match on that track record?”

 If you press hard on the key words and phrases, there are plenty of problems with Pawlenty’s portrayal of the situation.

Obama is not proposing a new health care entitlement program, at least as the term “entitlement” is currently used.

None of the programs Pawlenty cites are truly bankrupt. Social Security, the fiscally healthiest of the three, still brings in enough revenue to pay all promised benefits (although it is on a path to negative cash-flow). Medicare is drawing on its trust fund reserves. (I know the whole there-is-no-trust-fund argument, and it’s not utter nonsense, but you might think the fact that Medicare is now drawing on its trust fund would demonstrate that there is some reality to the money-we-owe-to-ourselves thing.) Medicaid, which gets general federal revenues and is partially paid by the states, is no more “bankrupt” than any other federal program. (Is the Defense Department “bankrupt? It brings in no revenue and the government that pays for it is in deficit.)

If we were to hold Gov. Pawlenty to a high standard of fairness and accuracy in his statements, this particular talking point would be found fairly seriously wanting.

But in a time when people are making up much bigger whoppers about the secret dark side of Obamacare, TPaw’s deviations from straight talk are minor offenses. Certainly the president and others who favor a substantial overhaul of health insurance regularly make statements that would not meet the highest standards of honest candor. I don’t guess any practicing politicians do. So my point here is not to make a big, hairy deal about Pawlenty’s misuse of the term “bankruptcy.”

To me, the Pawlenty cheap shots illustrate a deeper problem with the health care discussion. The topic has so many arms and legs that no one can reasonably deal with them all at once. But, depending on whether a politician is for or against the basic idea, they tend to portray the whole shmear as either all costs or all benefits (and then to dishonestly portray the costs and benefits).

Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all do face very, very daunting long-term fiscal challenges. These programs have the federal budget on an unsustainable path that I believe could wreck the U.S. economy if they are not addressed, but our political system seems unwilling to seriously address them.  I believe Pawlenty, as a genuine fiscal conservative, is seriously troubled by this. One of his best standard lines is that you cannot indefinitely ignore what he calls the “fiscal laws of gravity.”

But so far as I know, Pawlenty has not specified the tax increases nor the benefit cuts that he would endorse to restore long-term fiscal sustainability to the big entitlement programs. Given Pawlenty’s general approach to governance, the chance that he would address the problem through tax increases seems remote. So if that’s not an option, if he’s going to blow hard about entitlement bankruptcy, he needs to specify very significant cuts in Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits or beneficiaries.

And if he is going to make this an issue of Democratic Party fiscal irresponsibility, he also needs to acknowledge that during the decades that the entitlement programs have been heading toward what Pawlenty calls bankruptcy, the presidency and the Congress have passed through periods of Republican control without the problem being addressed. The change during the Bush years was the addition of an expensive new Medicare drug benefit. Is Pawlenty thinking about repealing that? (Pawlenty deserve half a point on this score, since he consistently tells Republicans that they are going to continue to claim the mantle of small government/fiscal responsibility, they have to “walk the walk.” This is an encoded reference to the deficit-growing sins of the Bush years.)

But, and this is really the point I set out to make, to use the entitlement programs  as a reason not to support health care changes now is an example of a forest/trees problem.

About 47 million Americans do not have health insurance. To say this should not be addressed because Democrats control Congress and the White House is to say let them remain uninsured indefinitely (and, by the way, the number of uninsureds is rising steadily).

The above-inflation increases in health insurance premiums continues apace, putting a big drag on family budgets and forcing more employers to drop health benefits or pass more costs onto their employees. Americans are being denied health insurance because of pre-existing conditions. Others are being kicked off the insurance rolls because they have reached the lifetime limit that their insurer will pay for their care. To say no to a major health care change is to leave these situations unaddressed.

Yes, Pawlenty has a few things he favors in health care that might expand access and reduce costs. He tends to refer to them as common-sense bipartisan ideas, but many of them are things Repubs favor and Dems are known to oppose.

But let’s be fair. Is Pawlenty obliged to go along with Dem ideas, with which he disagrees, just because to defeat those ideas means that the underlying problem will go unaddressed? I guess not. My only real wish, and it is listed with full knowledge of its lack of realism, is that the discussion could include the full range of problems that everyone agrees needs to be addressed and some awareness of the consequences of stalemate and inaction.

If anyone is still with me, your reward is one more Pawlenty punch line, introduced last Saturday at a speech to Republicans in Kissimmee, Fla. (the man is getting around), reported in the Orlando Sentinel (and previously noted by my esteemed Pi-Press colleague Bill Salisbury). In his Florida speech, Pawlenty faulted Obama’s education policies and said the current education system could be “cash for flunkers.”

Ba-rump bump.

(I stand corrected: shortly after posting this piece, I was informed that Pawlenty has been using the “cash for flunkers” gag for quite a while. Bit, if you hadn’t read it before, well, I guess you read it here first!)

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Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Pat McGee on 08/26/2009 - 01:29 pm.

    Nice piece. BTW, is it “bill” or “Bill” Salisbury?

  2. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 08/26/2009 - 03:41 pm.

    Punching back on those Pawlenty “punchlines”, indeed…Wow!

    …and what more can one say but that Paw-man must be sporting a couple of ‘Black’ eyes from this most incisive rebuttal. Thank you.

  3. Submitted by Joe Johnson on 08/26/2009 - 04:25 pm.

    Has Eric the Red ever done a hit job like this on Dem? I would love to see this on the President or the Speaker. But to one of you points how do define bankrupt? These programs are not bankrupt at an entity level, the federal government, but at the program level it is an overwhelming yes. Think was a balance sheet would look like at a program level, think GM. At the federal level it is the equivalent to a grossly underfunded pension liability, again think GM.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 08/26/2009 - 06:59 pm.

    Ah, yes! SUCH a hit piece! Why, I can’t wait for us to elect Tim president and let him do nationwide the wonderful things for education and the poor that he’s already done right here in his home state (that was sarcasm).

    “Cash for flunkers”? How about NO cash for education and NOTHING but “flunkers” (unless, of course you can afford to home school or to send your kids to a private school).

    Left unchanged, “No Child Left Behind” makes Tim Pawlenty and the Republican party out to be the Delores Umbridge’s of education, nationwide, with the MSM in the stubbornly ignorant role of The Daily Prophet. Given the opportunity, Timmy and the Rebs will “revolutionize” public education to the point of rendering it worthless, but then, that IS the idea, isn’t it?

  5. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 08/26/2009 - 07:04 pm.

    So, as Eric (almost) said, one solution would be to cut the largest nonproductive, non revenue producing programs: two silly and unnecessary wars.
    This would also reduce our medical costs!

  6. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/27/2009 - 07:58 am.

    Eric, if I may make a suggestion, there are more important people to question about the long term taxing/spending curves than Pawlenty. The health care debate is pretty important now in the Senate and Minnesota has two Senators again. Have you asked either of them what they plan to do about deepening deficits? After all, they belong to the party in power and presumably have something to say on this important subject.
    It seems a little out of place to ding Pawlenty on this. If you’re worried about the long term financial state of gov’t then it’s not out of place to suggest that the health care proposals currently on the table are too expensive. When people argue that health care is a civic right then it’s hard not to see how it’s going to become even more expensive than a traditional entitlement. You should be able to question it without having some kind plan to fix the entire federal gov’t budget.
    Or if that’s not the case, then that burden should be doubly on those in favor of the expansion.

  7. Submitted by Laura Bramble on 08/27/2009 - 09:29 am.

    Pawlenty, as a potential GOP presidential candidate, needs to be talking about this stuff- indeed he is already in his (basically) stump appearances and sound bites.

    Eric, I think this piece is great. There’s a lot of GOP complaints about bloat and entitlement programs (as though they never existed in any White House or Congress other than Democratic ones), but very few realistic or long term solutions. They do, however, have plenty of criticism for those who are trying to do somthing about it.

    I think all fiscal conservatives and die hard Republicans should refuse to cash their SS checks and should turn down Medicaid or Medicare as a sign of their commitment to fiscal responsibility. Wait…what’s that I hear? They’re ENTITLED to that money? Hello?! The money I am putting and have put into SS, etc. has gone to my grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as theirs. Good thing I love my family…

  8. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/27/2009 - 12:11 pm.

    As an old accountant, if I were to prepare a financial report on a company where cash flows were consistently less than cash outflows, and the only source of additional cash was an IOU from another company which was itself in a strongly negative cash flow situation, I would have no choice but to modify my report with a statement questioning the ability of the company to continue as a going concern.

    In other words, I would have to disclose that the company was on the verge of bankruptcy: unable to meet its anticipated obligations with anticipated income.

    This does seem to me to be the case with Social Security in the near future (though perhaps not in the required one year), and with Medicare, and has been the case ever since the government went into deficit spending for Medicaid.

    So when Pawlenty says they are all “headed to bankruptcy,” as an old accountant used to following the rules, I would conclude he is precisely right.

    Sorry, Eric.

  9. Submitted by John E Iacono on 08/27/2009 - 12:19 pm.

    Underlying the condition of current entitlement programs is another question:

    As these programs run out of money, as it is clear that they all will, the taxpayers at the time will have little choice but to pay additional monies to cover their obligations. (It would be politically suicidal to “cut” the benefits, so…)

    Given the greying of the population, and the shrinking of the workforce as this occurs, we can only hope and pray that legal immigration will provide a young, energetic, and stable workforce which will both provide for the economic growth of our society and for the cost of our aging citizens.

    I wonder if our politicians can see ahead clearly enough to welcome these new, younger workers to our country.

  10. Submitted by William Pappas on 08/30/2009 - 09:53 pm.

    Actually, Mr. Black, Pawlenty’s increasing visibility on show’s such as Hannity are opening a few eyes. I think his appearance on that show particularly has caused those unfamiliar with Pawlenty’s politics to question the viability of Pawlenty as Presidential candidate. So many of his statements were entirely without logic or factual content that the national media is beginning to question their assesment that Pawlenty is “a reasonable republican”.
    Pawlenty, like other republicans, have absolutely found no constructive place to be in the health care discussion. Promoting the status quo is a disaster as you pointed out and changing the system requires government regulation. They are in a serious Catch 22.

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