When I pulled my car out of the garage yesterday morning, the temperature gauge said it was negative eight degrees outside. It seemed only appropriate that what got my day off to an early and even colder start was a one-on-one interview with former Governor Tim Pawlenty. Being from Minnesota, Pawlenty is no stranger to the bitter cold that winter can bring.
The potential 2012 presidential candidate is busy traveling the country promoting his new book, Courage to Stand, raising money for his leadership PAC, and he even made it to Super Bowl XLV on Sunday before heading to Iowa to participate in The FAMiLY Leader’s inaugural presidential lecture series on Monday.
Pawlenty was the first potential candidate to participate in The FAMiLY Leader’s lecture series, so he really didn’t know what to expect at the three different events that the organization was hosting with him in different parts of the state. Pawlenty laughed when he admitted that he was the guinea pig for all the other potential candidates, but said that he enjoyed the events.
“You know, it was great. I really enjoyed it. It was well organized, well planned, went smoothly, and I was glad to get a chance to speak to these issues,” he said.
Events like the ones that The FAMiLY Leader are organizing can be extremely important for a candidate like Pawlenty. Being relatively unknown to most Iowans, he must differentiate himself from the other candidates if he wants to do well in the caucuses. These events allow Pawlenty an opportunity to speak to a crowd that might not necessarily turn out to see him at a book signing or campaign event, since these people are most passionate about pro-family issues
The opportunity to introduce himself to potential caucus goers is also important for Pawlenty because he is an easy guy to like once you get a chance to meet him. By all accounts, he made a good first impression with some of the more conservative caucus goers, and first impressions are important in a state like Iowa.
I was also impressed after my meeting with Pawlenty yesterday. I found him to be unpretentious, easy to talk to, highly competent, and knowledgeable on a number of topics. I also found it refreshing that he wasn’t afraid to talk about issues that candidates in the past were afraid to talk about, such as entitlement spending.
It seems that in politics today, everybody but President Obama and the Democrats, are willing to cut spending in Washington D.C. However, when you realize that the majority of the money spent is allocated to non-discretionary spending on entitlement programs like social security, Medicare, and Medicaid, it becomes obvious that we will never get spending under control until we deal with these entitlements.
“We have look the American people in the eye and tell them the truth. We have to have the boldness and courage to take the hit to get it done,” Pawlenty said.
“President Bush got reelected in 2004. Back then, he was still reasonably popular. You may remember that he gave a speech and said ‘I have political capital and I’m going to use it.’” Pawlenty recalled. “He teed up both Social Security and Medicare reform. Now, we can argue whether he presented it very well in how he presented it, but nonetheless, he had a fully Republican Congress, they controlled both houses of Congress. The Republican President couldn’t even get a vote in subcommittee in one chamber of Congress.”
Pawlenty believes that Congress, and by extension, the American people were not ready for entitlement reforms back in 2004. Now, six years later, and with the advent of the tea party movement, the public has shown an appetite to make the necessary reforms to entitlement programs. He said that, while the top issues remains jobs, a close second is government spending.
The reforms that Pawlenty is proposing are modest and reasonable.
“We need to tell people that we have a problem. They know that, but let’s not just scare them, let’s show them a reasonable way out,” he said.
Pawlenty proposes that social security should use means testing to determine the level of cost of living increases. He made it clear that he doesn’t support means testing for the entire program. Under his proposal, everyone who paid into the program will benefit from it, but if you are wealthy, you’re going to get a smaller cost of living increase than those who are middle income or poor.
He also proposes raising the retirement age for new and newer entrants in to the socials security system. Again, he made it clear that there would be no change to current participants. Finally, he thinks that people should have the ability, if they so choose, to have private accounts. Pawlenty admits that these things will not fix the entire program, but he believes they will fix a big chunk of it.
On Medicaid, Pawlenty believes that government needs to figure out what it can afford, shut off the auto pilot features, and completely block grant that money to the states. He believes that, by letting the states handle Medicaid, “It will ignite the laboratories of democracy for innovation, competition, and the best practices across the country.”
Pawlenty believes that Medicare is a much more difficult problem to solve. He said that the first thing that is needed is to crack down on fraud. “A third of the Medicare fraud in the country is occurring in just two states. Just tackling that would take care of not all, but part of the problem.”
I came away from my interview with Governor Pawlenty with a better understanding of him. His ideas on entitlement spending were thoughtful, and well reasoned. Throughout the conversation, there was a seriousness about him, but he came off as thoughtful, not arrogant. While he might not give the fieriest speeches or take extreme positions that would garner more attention, Pawlenty proved to me that he’s done his homework and is a serious candidate and thinker.
Photo by Dave Davidson
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