- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 4, 2009


Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty threatened to invoke states’ rights over President Obama’s health care plan and quipped that the “main benefit” of what he called the market-distorting, taxpayer-financed “Cash for Clunkers” program was that it “got a lot of cars with Obama stickers off the road.”

The two-term governor, in an interview with The Washington Times, sounded most of the right base notes as a Republican who is clearly eyeing the 2012 presidential nomination. He said that the Federal Reserve chairman and the Treasury secretaries in the Bush and Obama administrations were “misguided” at best in declaring certain financial and manufacturing organizations too big to be allowed to fail.

As to whether abortion is murder, as many pro-life advocates maintain, he said, “Life begins at conception, so abortion ends that life, but I don’t think we should criminalize abortion for women.”

In a phone conversation, the 48-year-old, hockey-playing Republican repeated the standard early denials of a presidential aspirant. “I haven’t decided and am not even thinking of that now,” he said, while acknowledging that on Thursday he officially established a multi-candidate political action committee to raise and spend money to help other Republican candidates in the 2010 congressional and gubernatorial elections. One dividend of such beneficence is IOUs from politicians across the country, should he decide on a 2012 nomination bid. He has already said he won’t seek a third term as governor next year.

Mr. Pawlenty had some surprisingly generous words for President Obama’s trip last week to Copenhagen to make what turned out to be a failed pitch to have the Olympics site-selection committee choose Chicago to host the 2016 summer games. The committee chose Rio de Janeiro instead.

Asked whether his fellow Republicans struck a false note in jumping all over the Democratic president for making the pitch in person, along with the first lady, Mr. Pawlenty said, “It’s fine for a governor or president to advocate for his or state or nation. People ought to lighten up about it.”

Once criticized by friends for giving deadly serious, truly earnest but largely soporific speeches, Mr. Pawlenty has been injecting passion and humor into his rhetoric, earning applause and cheers from Republican-inclined audiences.

Last month at a Values Voters Summit of nearly 2,000 social and religious conservatives, Mr. Pawlenty, virtually unknown outside his state, placed third behind better known political figures such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

As for Mr. Obama’s stimulus measures, Mr. Pawlenty noted, with irony, that “the federal government borrowed money from China to give Americans money to buy new cars from companies the government had already bailed out. Americans would have bought those cars a little later on their own. Meanwhile, Cash for Clunkers hurt the used-car lots, the salvage industry, the used-parts industry and charity.

“It’s a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff blush,” he said.

In naming his proudest achievement in office, Mr. Pawlenty turned to the most unifying theme for the modern conservative movement that forms the philosophical base of the Republican party: controlling spending both for economic stability and limiting government to protect individual freedoms.

“Since 1960 till I became governor in 2003, the average biennial state budget increase had been 19 percent,” he said. “It’s been 2 percent since I became governor.”

Also, in Minnesota’s 150-year history, through the recessions and depression, there was never any two-year budget cycle in which spending went down, until he became governor, he said, adding: “We actually cut spending for the two-year cycle we are in now.”

On the most divisive domestic issue of Mr. Obama’s first year in office, Mr. Pawlenty told The Times he would want other governors to join in raising objections based on the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution if the Democrat-led Congress enacts a sweeping health-care measure that forces mandates on the states — such as requiring every adult in the country to buy health insurance.

The amendment says the powers not specifically delegated to the federal government under the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are “reserved” to the states or the people.

“It is important to raise the issue — not through lawsuits or threats to secede — but because doing so makes a philosophical statement and political statement for policymakers to take seriously,” he said. “The federal government shouldn’t boss us around as states. It’s another example of federal government’s encroachment on markets and individual freedoms.”

He said he is “not aware of any other instance where the federal government has required an individual to purchase a good and service.”

As for illegal immigration, Mr. Pawlenty is against blanket amnesty as well as blanket deportation.

“One of the founding principles of this country is the rule of law, so we can’t have a large segment of the population flouting or violating the law and others large segment nodding and winking,” he said. “It corrodes respect for the law.”

He advocated the tightest possible border security enhanced by an electronic Social Security verification system so employers don’t unknowingly hire illegal immigrants. Deportation should depend on factors such as how long the illegal has been in the country.

Some in his party think Mr. Pawlenty may be more of a statistic than a statesman and more free-lunch than free-market in his governance.

“He broke his no-new taxes pledge by supporting cigarette-tax increases,” Club for Growth Vice President Sandy Roth said. “He signed a raise in the state minimum wage. He signed a statewide smoking ban. He supports government-negotiated price controls on Medicare, he supports government-negotiated prices for Medicare and he supports the state children’s health care plan … that the Democrats liberalized so that families making three times more than the poverty line can qualify.”

“You put all of these liberal actions together, and he is not the true believer that the conservative base is looking for,” said Mr. Roth, whose organization raises and spends money on behalf of free-market, limited-government conservatives.

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