After his dismal performance at this weekend's CPAC conference, Minnesota Governor and 2012 White House hopeful Tim Pawlenty might want to ask for a mulligan. Before finishing a distant fourth in the CPAC straw poll, Pawlenty's speech was panned by the conservative faithful he sought to impress. Worse still, his painful Tiger Woods "9 iron" joke about "big government" not only fell flat, but served to highlight Governor Pawlenty's dependence on the very federal stimulus funds he continued to denounce on Meet the Press Sunday.
In a red meat moment served up to feed frenzied Tea Baggers inside and outside the hall, the man who calls himself T-Paw casually endorsed their rage (and worse) by suggesting conservatives emulate the troubled Woods family:
"Not from Tiger, but from his wife. So, she said, 'I've had enough.' She said, 'No more.' I think we should take a page out of her playbook and take a nine iron and smash the window out of big government in this country."
But back in Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty is only too happy to receive handouts from the big government he decries.
Facing a $1.2 billion budget deficit, Pawlenty has proposed slashing health care coverage, education funding and aid to municipalities. Still, to fully close the gap, Pawlenty's proposal relies on $387 million in stimulus funds from Washington. As the Minnesota Star Tribune reported:
Nearly one-third of the governor's budget fix would rely on $387 million in federal stimulus money. That money isn't yet in the bank and, if it doesn't come through, the cuts could be far deeper.
Ironically, this episode comes just days after Governor Pawlenty exhumed the stinking corpse of the balanced budget amendment in a Politico op-ed titled, "Ponzi Scheme on the Potomac." Without ever detailing how a President T-Paw would cut spending, Pawlenty nevertheless argued:
That's why we need an amendment to the U.S. Constitution to require a balanced budget with limited exceptions for war, natural disasters and other emergencies. Every state but one has a balanced budget requirement, and while such requirements make for difficult decisions, they work.
Pawlenty's dependence on the Obama stimulus program he ridiculed as "ludicrous", "misdirected" and "largely wasted" hardly ends with plugging holes in the Minnesota budget. As ThinkProgress documented, in August, Pawlenty's economic development chief vouched for the Recovery Act's success in producing jobs in the Land of the 10,000 Lakes:
Pawlenty's criticisms of the stimulus are at odds with both economists and the statements of Pawlenty's own economic development director, Dan McElroy. McElroy, Pawlenty's "point man on jobs and economic development," leads the Department of Employment and Economic Development. He recently went on a 10 city road show titled "Advancing Economic Prosperity" touting the benefits of the stimulus. Speaking about the positive effects of the stimulus, McElroy said:
"Our goal was to put this money to work as quickly as possible. Communities and job-seekers throughout Minnesota are seeing tangible results from this funding."
Tom Hanson, Pawlenty's top financial advisor, concurred. He told legislators that cash from that big government back in DC would make "all of our lives just a little bit easier," adding:
"The federal money will give us the opportunity to accept federal assistance and push it out into our state, to help as many people as possible."
But on Meet the Press Sunday, Pawlenty resumed both the anti-stimulus drumbeat and his unique brand of voodoo economics. Asked by host David Gregory about the $787 billion ARRA which created thousands of jobs in his home state of Minnesota and up to two million nationwide, T-Paw said the Obama administration "did it the wrong way." Instead, the man who would constitutionally mandate a balanced federal budget offered up more of the same snake oil that led to a tripling of the national debt under Ronald Reagan and a doubling under George W. Bush:
"David, I don't disagree that we need to do things to stimulate and grow the economy. But the way to do that is to take the tax code and extend the Bush tax cuts, cut the payroll tax, encourage growth in the private economy by reducing capital gains burdens."
And so it goes. In one of his first chances to tee off on the national stage, Tim Pawlenty's shot landed squarely in a sand trap. After his CPAC debacle, Pawlenty needs to put the club down or, at least, stop hitting himself.
(An earlier version of this piece also appears at Perrspectives.)