GOP Presidential Hopefuls Stake Out Fiscal Positions
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The Fiscal Times
June 3, 2011

While Sarah Palin was grabbing headlines with her East Coast bus tour, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney formally announced his candidacy for president Thursday with a speech in New Hampshire that sternly criticized Obama’s handling of the troubled economy. Romney also offered a formula for reducing unemployment and getting the economy back on track: “Barack Obama has failed America. From my first day in office, my number one job will be to see that America once again is number one in job creation.”

Another Republican presidential aspirant, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, has been beating the bushes in Iowa, trying to generate enthusiasm for his campaign. Pawlenty is engaging in retail politics, meeting with small groups of Iowans – as he did  earlier this week at a coffee with 20 Republicans near tiny Orange City – to lay the foundation for a strong showing at next year’s Iowa caucuses.

In all, eight Republicans have either tossed their hats in the ring or are on the verge of doing so. Yet their best efforts are being overshadowed by Palin’s cat-and-mouse game with the media as she, her family and her entourage have spent the better part of a week making largely unannounced stops at historical sites between Washington and New Hampshire, all while fueling speculation that she might seek the GOP presidential nomination.

Many analysts believe that, like Donald Trump before her, Palin will ultimately opt out of the race. But political analysts and the news media have been wrong about her before, and for now, she’s casting a long shadow over the GOP presidential field.

Palin criticized Romney’s Massachusetts health-care plan ahead of her arrival in New Hampshire  yesterday evening for a clambake, just hours after Romney officially launched his campaign.  According to Politico she called the timing “coincidental.” But while Palin decides her next political move, others must worry about the political calendar as they assemble campaigns, raise money, and begin to line up support for primaries and caucuses. With the economy and the deficit front and center, many of the Republican presidential aspirants have staked out positions on the federal debt and debt ceiling, spending cuts, Medicare and entitlement reform, and taxes.

Here is a summary of the main GOP candidates and where they stand on some of the most pressing fiscal issues:

MITT ROMNEY
Romney, 64, has to be considered the front-runner for the Republican nomination, if for no other reason than his willingness to spend his personal fortune, which exceeded $200 million in 2007. The former Massachusetts governor who first ran for the Senate in 1994 against the late Sen. Ted Kennedy after a successful career as a business consultant and private equity investment fund manager will stress jobs and the economy in his second quest for the White House.

But the flip-flopper charge successfully leveled against him by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2008 is likely to haunt him during the 2012 campaign, in large part because as governor he signed a sweeping health care reform bill that served as the model for President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In a major address last month at the University of Michigan, Romney attacked “Obamacare” as “a power grab by the federal government to put a one-size-fits-all plan across the nation” and called instead for state-by-state solutions. In fact, “Romneycare” in Massachusetts included a state-based exchange for selling private insurance that individuals have to buy – the same approach used by Democrats that was vilified by Republicans on the campaign trail last year. “Obamacare” also allows for sharp variations in state approaches.

Over the years, Romney’s rightward march on social issues has mollified social conservative critics (he once embraced a woman’s right to choose, declaring in 1994, “abortion should be safe and legal in this country”).  And his business background and experience as governor give him credibility on economic issues.

“We are only inches away from ceasing to be a free market economy,” he said on Thursday.  “I will cap federal spending at 20 percent or less of the GDP and finally, finally, balance the budget.” As governor, however, he balanced Massachusetts’ budget by raising taxes and fees as well as by cutting spending.

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TIM PAWLENTY
The former Minnesota governor announced his campaign on May 23, vowing to “tackle and fix” the budget deficit and the debt and to “get this economy back on track.”  A native of St. Paul, Pawlenty, 50, served five terms as a state representative before winning election as governor.

The mild-mannered, understated Pawlenty projects an air of competence, but has trouble exciting a crowd. During his two terms as governor, between 2003 and 2011, he eliminated his state's budget deficit using spending cuts and borrowing heavily from earmarked funds, and cut business taxes after raising cigarette taxes and assorted fees in his first term. His administration advocated for many public works projects, and he cut health care spending to help balance the budget.

As a presidential candidate, Pawlenty has opposed raising the debt ceiling, arguing that the Obama administration could avert defaulting on the U.S. debt by sequencing government spending and prioritizing payments of interest and principle.  He would reduce the deficit by eliminating wasteful spending, including ethanol subsidies, and overhauling Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs. He’s proposed raising the Social Security retirement age and means testing Social Security’s cost of living adjustments. He would also convert Medicaid to a block grant to the states with tight spending limits, while transforming Medicare for seniors “to a more efficient, pay-for-performance model.” He opposes raising taxes to help close the deficit gap.

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JON HUNTSMAN, JR.
Huntsman is a 51-year-old Republican who served as the 16th governor of Utah, resigning during his second term to accept President Obama’s appointment as ambassador to China. He held that post for two years before resigning. In 2008, Huntsman’s co-chaired Sen. John McCain’s campaign for president and was appointed a key adviser. Before entering politics, Huntsman was an executive for the Huntsman Corporation, a global chemical company that his father founded in 1970. Married with seven children, he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

Though some Republicans question whether Huntsman is conservative enough to win the nomination, he’s compiled a staunchly conservative record in Utah on matters ranging from abortion to the budget. While in office, he cut and flattened tax rates during the Great Recession, which helped Utah maintain its AAA bond rating. Utah was also named the best-managed state in the nation, according to Pew Center on the States study in 2008.

Washington Editor and D.C. Bureau Chief Eric Pianin is a veteran journalist who has covered the federal government, congressional budget and tax issues, and national politics. He spent over 25 years at The Washington Post.