GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty recently called for $2 trillion in tax cuts for individuals and businesses in the next decade, as well as two to three times less federal spending – cutting a total of $8 trillion.
But on Tuesday, Pawlenty expressed his foreign policy plans to remain involved in the Middle East – to “seize” the opportunity “amid the turmoil of the Arab Spring” and to “help promote freedom and democracy.”
The GOP candidate said America should stop “leading from behind” and be more active in regions like Libya, Egypt and even Saudi Arabia.
However, the cost of the U.S. campaign in Libya is expected to exceed the $750 million Pentagon estimate set out in March. Taxpayers are spending $2 million a day to support the African nation – and all this while “leading from behind.” At the current expenditure, the U.S. will spend almost $1 billion on its Libya mission.
Pawlenty’s campaign spokesperson refused to comment on how the candidate plans to fund even more overseas missions while also cutting government spending.
Economics columnist Bruce Bartlett said his foreign policy corresponding to his economic policy is “possible – but it’s also possible that pigs will grow wings.”
A president has limited power in controlling the budget. Pawlenty would require Congressional approval to make such drastic cuts in both taxation and spending, which Bartlett said is “absurdly unrealistic.”
Taking stands that separate him from other candidates may appeal to some portion of the Republican electorate, which could give him the much-needed popularity he is lacking – even if it’s from Tea Partiers, Bartlett said.
However, Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council advisor to Clinton and Bush, said that ignoring problems abroad will just bring them home, so Pawlenty has the right idea by addressing the importance of U.S. involvement in the Middle East.
“I wouldn’t say that he is focusing so much on the Middle East as the Middle East is focusing on us,” said Feaver, who is now a professor at Duke University. “I would say in the long run the Republicans are not going to win in the general election by running on the left of Obama on foreign policy.”
Feaver said he did not know enough about economics to analyze if Pawlenty’s plan is feasible, but he did say “a crucial part ofPawlenty’s stance is that you have to rebuild the economy and get it growing again and his plans and ambition on the foreign policy side is predicated on [that].”
Feaver said the perceived mood of the Republican party is war-weariness and a desire to retreat from the Middle East, but even though “being strong on national security doesn’t capture the way the mood seems to be recorded,” the last century of history shows that few international problems have been solved without help from the United States.
“The lesson since World War II is that American leadership is important,” he told FrumForum, “There are few problems that got better with America ignoring them, and few that got solved by others stepping up and letting America ‘lead from behind.’”
But looking at the numbers, Pawlenty’s foreign and economic policies do not seem compatible.
Federal Budget Analyst Andrew Fieldhouse said that Pawlenty’s tax plan does not compute with his spending plan because the GOP candidate has endorsed a federal balance budget amendment towards capital expenditures of 18 percent GDP. Currently, federal spending is close to 24 percent. His revenue plan would lose 7.6 trillion dollars of revenue. According to his plan, revenue would only be 14 percent of GDP, and after subtracting the three percent interest rate, there would only be 11 percent of GDP for actual government spending.
“At that point you could theoretically continue large military presence overseas and his extensive foreign policy, but it would crowd out huge areas of the federal budget,” said Fieldhouse.
The government would have to reduce the Congressional budget, eliminate Social Security, federal retirement, foreign subsidies, federal health expenditure, non-interest government spending and 10 percent of the economy over the next decade.
“It doesn’t seem feasible to me,” he told FrumForum. “He has a delusional approach to budgeting. I don’t think he’s thought any of this through.”
Budgeting 18 percent of the economy (which the Ryan plan proposes) is always difficult, but possible. However, budgeting 11 percent of the economy for federal spending, while having a large military presence overseas – is near impossible, said Fieldhouse.
A recent Gallup poll shows that Pawlenty’s name recognition among Republicans has risen to 57 percent, but his Positive Intensity Score is 8 – his lowest to date. To prevent his popularity from decreasing, he needs to increase his appeal to voters.
When asked if he thinks Pawlenty is using his foreign policy stance to stand out from other candidates, Feaver said that Tuesday’s speech truly reflects his views.
“I think this doesn’t reflect a tactical positioning of himself to appeal to the primary voters so much as this is what he actually believes is good for American national interests,” he said. “And that’s an important distinction – some candidates will take a stand because they’re trying to triangulate some primary voting blocker.”
“Since the [Tea Partiers] make no demands on their ideological leaders to be logically consistent or have numbers that add up, he doesn’t feel like he has to conform to that requirement either – so he just says whatever he thinks will be popular,” said Bartlett.