In a speech that calls for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, a slashing of corporate and income tax rates, and emergency presidential powers to rein in spending, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty laid out his economic vision for the country in Chicago today.
With a renewed focus on the economy after troubling economic news over the past several weeks, Pawlenty ripped the performance of the current president and made a pro-growth case for why he should be the next one. The speech combined specific policy proposals with audacious, perhaps unrealistic, goals. And it was woven together with language that seemed to cast Barack Obama’s presidency as almost un-American.
That emerging theme – that Obama believes in a different kind of America than most of his fellow countrymen – may well be the most memorable aspect of Pawlenty’s speech today.
“The truth about our economy isn’t hard at all,” Pawlenty said. “Markets work. Barack Obama’s central planning doesn’t. America’s economy is not even growing at 2 percent today. And that’s what all projections say we can expect for the next decade. That’s not acceptable. It’s not the American way. The recession may have changed our economy. But it didn’t change our character.”
Some of Pawlenty’s proposals are Republican boilerplate – lower taxes, regulatory reform, and balanced budgets. Others reflect the imminent fiscal crisis facing the country – emergency presidential authority on spending, privatization of longstanding government functions, and, though he hasn’t yet offered many specifics, entitlement reform.
On taxes, Pawlenty proposes a two-tiered income tax system: Ten percent on the first $50,000 for individuals ($100,000 for couples), and 25 percent on income above those levels. He calls for the elimination of capital gains, dividend and estate taxes, as well as the abolition of loopholes and carve outs.
On the spending side, Pawlenty echoed the call of Senate Republicans for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution – one that would cap federal spending at about 18 percent – its historical average. He explained his support for a balanced budget last week in an interview in Iowa. “If history is any guide, particularly recent history, I don’t trust the politicians to do difficult things unless they’re forced to do them. There are times when brave and courageous people step forward and do the right thing, and Paul [Ryan] has obviously demonstrated his willingness to do that individually,” he said. “Politicians are like running water – they go to the point of least resistance” and a balanced budget amendment would give them resistance.
In his speech today, Pawlenty noted that such an amendment would take time to pass and argued that the times require something more urgent.
In a plan sure to draw media skepticism and conservative praise, Pawlenty says he would ask Congress to authorize the president, on an emergency basis, “to freeze spending at current levels and impound up to 5 percent of federal spending until such time as the budget is balanced. If they won’t do it – I will. As an example – cutting just 1 percent of overall federal spending for 6 consecutive years – would balance the federal budget by 2017.”
But it was Pawlenty’s frontal attack on President Obama’s worldview – not just his policies – that make the speech noteworthy.
At several points in his Chicago speech, Pawlenty suggested that Obama’s economic views – which he described bluntly as an embrace of “central planning” – are at odds with the long history of mainstream American economic thought. And he suggested that the president is struggling in part because of his rejection of this central tenet of American greatness.
It’s a theme that Pawlenty will hammer as the race moves forward: Barack Obama believes in a different kind of American than most Americans – both current citizens and past leaders.
“We are the United States of America,” Pawlenty said today in Chicago. “We settled the west and went to the moon. We liberated billions of good people from communism, fascism, and jihadism. We've lit the lamp of freedom – for the entire world to see. The strength of our country is our people – not our government. Americans believe our country is exceptional. And they deserve a president who does too.“
He made this point in our interview last week, too, his tone revealing unmistakable disgust.
“In his speeches, [Obama] has repeatedly said we are one of equals – equal partners around the world. We’re not equal partners. We’re not the same as France. We’re not the same as Argentina. We’re not the same as Portugal. We have exceptional responsibilities and exceptional leadership opportunities. And we need to rise to that responsibility. There’s no other country in the world that can do what we do. This notion that we are just another in the pack – you know, just a voice in the chorus, is contrary to the history of America’s role in the world. I think he has just a fundamentally different worldview in that regard than other leaders.”
Where does that come from?
“I don’t know. I don’t know.”