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Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty on Obamacare and the mood of the electorate

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

HH: Remember, you can go to, get the links to send $10 bucks to Tark, send Harry Reid a message by giving a ten spot to his only announced challenger, tell Harry there’s more where that came from unless Obamacare is killed off quickly. It’s the one guy who’s the weak link in the chain in Washington, D.C., is Harry Reid. Put the pressure on him. Joined now by the great governor of the great state of Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty. Governor Pawlenty, welcome back, always a pleasure.

TP: Do you think Harry Reid is the only weak link in the chain?

HH: I think he’s weaker than Pelosi and Obama.

TP: It’s all relative, I suppose.

HH: I suppose.

TP: Yeah.

HH: It’s the weakest link in that chain. Hey, Governor, you’ve only got 15 months left in office.

TP: Yes, sir.

HH: Well that’s…time is running short for me to be your houseguest.

TP: (laughing) Are you coming for the Fair this year?

HH: No, Jay Larson won’t let me in.

TP: Oh, well there are reasons for that.

HH: There are.

TP: Well, the next time you come to Minnesota, while you can’t stay overnight, I will extend the invitation for you to come, and I’ll buy you lunch, dinner, a cup of coffee, some hospitality.

HH: I can’t stay overnight?

TP: No.

HH: You know, Mrs. Pawlenty likes me. She listens most days.

TP: Yeah, but we have curfew.

HH: Oh, okay.

TP: And you’ve got that home monitoring obligation.

HH: (laughing) Governor Pawlenty, you have, I’ve got to ask you so much stuff, but first, I want to start with the mood in the country. You’ve been doing this a long time. You’ve been governor for seven years. Have you ever seen anything like this?

TP: No, and it’s quite surprising, because for all of the grand pronouncements about what the 2008 elections meant in terms of the mood of the country, the direction of the country, you’re seeing a correction, a swinging back of the pendulum, if you will, to I think a more common sense perspective, and you can feel it. Obviously, people are reporting it in the polls, but you can also just feel it as you travel around, and you can see the sights and sounds and emotions of democracy playing themselves out in town hall meetings and county fairs, and soon to be our state fair, and many other places. And it’s a healthy thing.

HH: Now let me ask you about the budget deficit first, because as a governor, you’ve had to balance a budget. This year, you balanced a budget basically on your own without much help from the legislature. But today, the Obama administration announced, as they did on Friday, they’re $2 trillion dollars off. This is, you know, you deal in billions, which are big numbers. Don’t these numbers stagger you?

TP: It not only staggers me, but it frightens me and concerns me a great deal. Hugh, we cannot continue to do what we’re doing in terms of federal spending. We are going to have the federal government equivalent of the home mortgage crisis meltdown. This is a house of cards. It’s unsustainable. It’s going to have intermediate and long term consequences on our economy that are going to be even harder to address down the road. But I will also say this. We have to look each other in the eye and look in the mirror, and acknowledge that regardless of whether we have sent Republicans to the White House or Democrats to the White House, the trend line…or the Congress, the trend line’s been about the same with some exceptions. But basically, Obama has now just exponentially grown the problem. But the problem, at least structurally, existed even before. Now, he’s made it dramatically worse. We have to move towards higher expectations for the folks we send there. But I would go so far as to say this. They’re not going to balance the budget in Washington, D.C. until they have to, and that’s why I’m saying we should get back to a balanced budget requirement for the federal government, at least a movement in that direction, and harness our energy towards that kind of goal, because they won’t do it otherwise.

HH: Now what is the total budget of Minnesota, Governor, in rough terms?

TP: Well, the general operating fund, it’s $30, well, roughly $32 billion dollars for a two year period.

HH: Now the reason I bring that up is that’s a lot of money. That runs an entire state which is a big state with a lot going on and a lot of employment. $32 billion is nothing to these people. They just spend $32 billion dollars, it’s like a burp after dinner.

TP: (laughing) Yeah, that’s a good way to put it. And so it’s become an Alice in Wonderland situation, where we borrow money from the Chinese to pay money to ourselves under the banner of cash for clunkers, so we can feel better about buying cars from ourselves and companies we own, General Motors, so someday, we might be able to pay ourselves back. I mean, think about that, Hugh. That’s literally what we’re doing as a country. I know the program’s popular and all that, but the fact of the matter is we don’t have the money, we’re borrowing money to give ourselves money to buy cars from ourselves, so someday we might be able to pay ourselves back. If you don’t think that’s a symptom of a cultural financial crisis, then I think we don’t have our head screwed on straight. It’s a major problem, and it has to be fixed.

HH: Let’s turn to health care, Governor Pawlenty. Obviously, Minnesota is associated in many people’s minds with health care because of the Mayo Clinic, second greatest clinic in the world behind the Cleveland clinic.

TP: What???

HH: And so the issue before you is, do you want the federal government to screw up the medical system in America, and do you think Obamacare will do that?

TP: Well coincidentally, about an hour ago, I finished a lengthy meeting with the leadership of the Mayo Clinic on a variety of issues. And they told me that they lost $850 million dollars last year on the Medicare program, because of their involvement in the Medicare program, amongst other interesting tidbits. But the federal government has run into the ground, or put on a pathway to bankruptcy, every entitlement program they have – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. They can’t even manage the programs they have without moving them into bankruptcy, or on the pathway to bankruptcy. Why would be give them another entitlement program to do that with? And that’s precisely what they’ll do with the health care program if we give it to them.

HH: Was that attitude towards Obamacare widespread among the Mayo executive you were talking to? I’m sure there are some people who support it. You know, a big group, there’ll be 30% that support crazy things. But what about generally?

TP: Well you know, I don’t want to speak for them, but in its early iteration, they’re opposed to the Obamacare proposal. Now the Mayo Clinic leadership of course are diplomatic, and they’re folks who are cautious about what they say publicly about things, but they, as we all do, agree that the health care system has to be changed and fixed. But even they went so far as to say the original plans on the table, and I think the ones that are still on the plans on the table, are something that they don’t like or don’t support.

HH: What is the political fallout? Obviously, you don’t have a Senator on the ballot in 2010. Amy Klobuchar doesn’t come up until 2012. She’s supposed to be a moderate. Do you think Senator Klobuchar in Minnesota is getting the word that Obamacare is simply bad medicine and bad politics?

TP: Well, we have another Senator in Minnesota as well, of course, Senator Franken. I think, I don’t want to speak for them, but it seems to me both of them have made comments to the effect that they support this general direction in health care reform. I’m sure there are some particulars they may want to get into more detail on, but I think they, I would suspect, they both support some form of what Obama is proposing, and I haven’t heard them speak in opposition to it, so I have to assume they’re in favor of it.

HH: Are there any Congressmen on the Democratic side who are in danger politically as a result of the turmoil, the sort of roiling around among moderate, not just conservatives, but moderates and even some Democrats upset by Obamacare?

TP: Well, we have a self-described blue dog Democrat in Minnesota. His name is Colin Peterson. And he’s from the 7th Congressional district, which is kind of Western Minnesota, all the way from Iowa nearly to the Canadian border. And he, I think, has expressed some public reservations about it, but these blue dogs, while not criticizing Colin Peterson, but they always talk a big game, but when push comes to shove, most of them vote for the thing, whatever the thing is. So I’m a little skeptical about the label blue dog. I don’t think they really stand up to it in the end.

HH: And so over the next year that you’re finishing out your term, are you going to be out on the road helping Republicans make this message, Tim Pawlenty?

TP: Yeah, I am. I’m going to make sure I do my job here, but I’m also going to try to articulate some message around how the Republicans can do better both in Minnesota and nationally, and we’ll see how that goes.

HH: Have you opened a PAC yet?

TP: No.

HH: Plan to do it anytime soon?

TP: You’ll be one of the first to know, Hugh.

HH: And you’re going to go to the Fair, I assume, most days?

TP: Of course. Of course. What do you think I am? Some sort of Californian?

HH: Well, I hope you’ll go by the 1280 booth and berate them for not having us back there, Governor.

TP: I’ll do it.

HH: Thank you, Tim Pawlenty from Minnesota, always a pleasure. Cannot get that invite to that house. I just don’t…

End of interview.

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