Pizza Ranch SignTim Pawlenty, former Governor of Minnesota, treated a crowd of mostly seasoned citizens, from Jasper County, Iowa, to a free lunch at the Pizza Ranch in Newton, a now regular spot for upstart candidates for President.  Pawlenty, who recently announced the establishment of a 2012 Presidential Exploratory Committee, spoke for about twenty minutes.   Pawlenty had the crowd mostly in his corner, weaving stories about his upbringing in South St Paul with examples of policy differences with President Obama.

Pawlenty tipped his hand to one possible strategy in Iowa by finishing his speech with a jab at his leading Republican opponents, though he claimed Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment[1] mantle during the question and answer session.  Pawlenty said “if you look at the conservative coalition: that is economic conservatives, and social conservatives, and Tea Party slash Libertarian conservatives, and national defense/security conservatives.  You don’t have to hyphenate all those for me because I’m the conservative that’s all of those things and I admire and respect all the other people who may be running in this race but most, particularly the ones who will be the serious contenders that are gonna appeal mostly to one or maybe one-and-a-half of those categories, but I have the ability to appeal to the whole continuum.  And I’ve got the record to back it up in Minnesota….I did it in the land of Humphrey, Mondale, Wellstone, McCarthy, Ventura, and now U.S. Senator, Al Franken.”

After the speech, Governor Pawlenty answered questions for another thirty minutes.  Highlights:

On Energy Policy, Two Words: “More American Energy”   Natural gas is the most important source of energy for the near future.  Pawlenty is also willing to pursue drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR), Alaska, and in off-shore locations, if the neighboring states approved.

On Entitlement Reform:  New or newer entrants to the Social Security program will have their age of retirement raised.  He also supports means testing of SS to limit cost-of-living adjustments for the really wealthy.  He is the only governor (correction: only governor running for president) to get an “A” rating from the CATO Institute.  Not in favor of reducing defense spending.  He wants a modern payment system in Medicare based on medical outcomes, rather than historical costs.

On abolishing the Department of Education:  Refused to commit to that, though he appears to agree in substance when he says education falls under the 10th Amendment referring to state’s rights, and that as much as possible, these choices should be made by states and parents.

On requiring insurance companies to cover pre-existing conditions:   “I think having some limitations on not allowing insurance companies to discriminate against people who have been previously sick is appropriate….We don’t want people to be able to say well I’m uninsured and now I got sick and now I want insurance; but if you have been previously sick, I think you have to have the ability to get insurance, I don’t think you should be penalized because you have been sick before in your life.”

When pressed later, on the likely necessary trade-off of forcing insurers to cover previous conditions by mandating everyone to have insurance, he suggested that it would be paid for by shifting the cost to everyone else, and he did not address how you stop people from demanding insurance after they find out they are sick.  In private, he finally said that he would not have the federal government mandate coverage of pre-existing conditions.  I think politicians open themselves up to criticism when they don’t confine themselves to addressing what they think the federal role is on these issues or at least make the distinction of roles clearer.

On the Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP): “I don’t support it”.   (There is some dispute on whether this is a flip from an earlier position where Pawlenty used the “too-big-to-fail” argument defending the bailouts during a National Press Club appearance in 2008).

On Taxes: Believes that every member of Congress should have to fill out his or her own tax returns in order to understand the complexity of the bills they pass.

[1] Do not speak ill of other Republicans.

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