Pawlenty calls for tax cuts and smaller government role in economic address

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty (R) offered what he called a dramatic alternative to President Obama’s “big government and heavy-handed regulations” in an economic address at the University of Chicago on Tuesday morning.

Speaking at one of the world’s foremost centers of free-market thought — and just a few miles from the offices of Obama’s reelection campaign — Pawlenty, who began his presidential campaign last month, proposed deep cuts to taxes and spending and a wholesale revision of federal regulations to “turbocharge” the economy to a level of growth not seen since the presidencies of Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan.

“Markets work. Barack Obama’s central planning doesn’t,” Pawlenty said to a hall filled with students and teachers. “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.”

Pawlenty repeatedly referred to “failed” policies of the Obama administration, including the health-care law and bailouts of auto companies and Wall Street. He offered a starkly different vision for American prosperity founded on the idea that, with the proper incentives to the entrepreneurial class, the country can grow its way out of its crippling debt and unemployment.

Calling his vision a “Better Deal,” Pawlenty laid out a plan to tackle what he called Washington’s “out-of-control spending” and to replace the federal tax code with a “flatter and fairer” system. He proposed making major reductions in the corporate and individual income tax rates, “sunsetting” all federal regulations unless Congress intervenes, and privatizing a laundry list of federal functions including the Postal Service and Amtrak.

“The president wrongly thought the stimulus package, the bailouts and the takeovers were the solution. He says they worked. They did not,” Pawlenty said. “The president is satisfied with a second-rate American economy produced by his third-rate policies. I’m not.”

Pawlenty’s speech drew quick criticism from Democrats, who said his proposals would greatly increase the deficit — and send much of the tax relief he laid out to the wealthiest Americans.

“It’s a prescription for economic disaster that would fall squarely on the backs of seniors and working families,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (Fla.), chairman of the Democratic National Committee. “Mr. Pawlenty would take the Republican policies of the last decade, which exploded our deficit and debt and nearly sank our economy into a second Great Depression, and inject them with steroids.”

Anticipating such reaction, Pawlenty lashed out against Obama and other Democrats in his speech, saying they were engaging in “class warfare.” Asked by a student in the audience to justify more tax cuts for the wealthy when those enacted during the George W. Bush administration helped grow the deficit, he said:

“Set aside whether the wealthy benefit or not. The real measure of this proposal is: Is it going to generate in a transformative, significant way more jobs for more people across this country? There’s about 5 percent of the country that is our entrepreneurial class, the people who start businesses, form capital, deploy capital, add employees, build buildings, invent things, conduct research, commercialize it and the like. If that 5 percent becomes 6, 7, 8 or 9 percent, we’ve got a very bright future. And if that 5 percent becomes 4, 3, 2 or 1 percent, we are in deep doo-doo.”

Pawlenty’s speech continued his efforts to seize his party’s small-government, free-enterprise mantle — a mantle that many Republicans consider unclaimed, because two popular GOP governors, Mitch Daniels of Indiana and Chris Christie of New Jersey, have said they will not seek the presidency next year.

Pawlenty said after his speech that one of the reasons those governors are popular is because they, like him, have had to make difficult decisions as chief executives. Implicit in the remark was a comparison to Obama, who did not bring executive experience to the White House.

“You have to actually have done these things rather than just talk about it,” Pawlenty said. “You also have to be willing to have enough courage and boldness to tell it like it is. I think those are traits that Governor Daniels has. But I do, too.”

In his speech, Pawlenty called for applying a “Google” test to federal services, meaning that if private businesses can be found on the Internet to perform the same function, “then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it.”

“The Post Office, the Government Printing Office, Amtrak, Fannie and Freddie were all built for a time in our country when the private sector did not adequately provide those products,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”

Pawlenty proposed slashing the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 15 percent and establishing just two individual tax rates: 10 percent for the first $50,000 of income ($100,000 for married couples) and 25 percent for all income above that. The result would be a one-third cut in the bottom rate and a 28 percent cut in the top rate.

Pawlenty also wants to eliminate the capital gains tax, interest income tax, dividends tax and estate tax. And he wants to cut 1 percent of federal spending each year for the next six years, a plan that would balance the national budget by 2017, he said.

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