Pawlenty, Cain say they’d sign deficit budget

BY ADAM B SULLIVAN | JUNE 20, 2011 7:20 AM

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DES MOINES —Three Republican presidential hopefuls condemned federal spending at an event over this past weekend. The budget deficit is burdening the next generation, endangering the economy, and threatening financial collapse, they pleaded to a crowd of caucus-goers.

But only one of them, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, promised to veto a deficit budget if it came across his desk his first year in office. The others conceded a balanced budget is likely still several years off.

Indeed, in the rest of the 2012 presidential-nomination field, all the candidates are calling to curb spending, but almost none of them have put forth a plan to balance the budget in the next few years.

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told a crowd of around 500 in Des Moines he supports a Constitutional requirement to balance the budget every year, but after the event, he said he’d probably sign a deficit budget his first year as president.

“We need to move toward a balanced budget … I don’t think it’s realistic to say you’d do it in the first year,” he told The Daily Iowan after speaking at the Strong America Now Deficit Free America Summit on June 18.

Georgia businessman Herman Cain spoke at the same event. He took a tougher stand, saying he might veto an unbalanced budget but said he wasn’t familiar enough with the budget to say for sure.

“Current fiscal year budgets are running 60 to 70 percent over budget, so I can’t say unequivocally without going through the budget whether I’d sign it or not,” he told the DI, adding he’d wait until he was elected to do an intensive review of the budget.

Johnson, however, promised to veto any deficit budget and push for a balanced budget right away.

“Right now, it’s a rubber stamp,” he said. “It’s business as usual, and business as usual has us on the verge — I’m maintaining— of a financial collapse.”

Many Republicans have applauded the budget plan put forth by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. However, officials at the Congressional Budget Office estimate that plan will still ring up annual deficits until 2040 — by which time next year’s University of Iowa freshmen will likely be sending their own kids off to college.

Democrats have criticized that plan. In a conference call with reporters last week, Iowa Democratic Party Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said the Ryan plan “will not only end Medicare as we know, [it] will drive up the deficit while doing so.”

But Democrats’ plans won’t likely squelch the budget any sooner. CBO accountants analyzed President Obama’s 2012 budget proposal and found it would actually produce greater deficits over the next 10 years than current policies would.

Even though polls show voters think deficit reduction is an important part of improving the economy, candidates without short-term deficit-elimination plans top most polls. Johnson said those candidates’ rhetoric have propelled them, but he’s optimistic his message will catch on.

“I listen to political speeches all the time and I think as a generalization political speeches are laden with platitudes. I’m not in that camp,” he said. “And so all I can ask for is that they listen and I think I say things that perhaps people have never heard before.”

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