Tim Pawlenty's plan to revive the US economy: the 'Google Test'

Pawlenty offered a new spin on the classic spending-cuts idea: If Google can identify a private-sector provider of any good or service, the government should get out of that business. By invoking Google, he hopes to snatch media attention from the antics of Trump, Palin, and Weiner.

Paul Beaty / AP
Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who declared May 22 that he is running for president, delivers a policy address at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy on Tuesday, June 7.

In a presidential campaign most noteworthy for the antics of Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, along comes Tim Pawlenty – a serious candidate trying to attract attention with a serious economic policy speech.

But for a presidential contender stuck in low single digits in the polls, serious doesn’t get you anywhere in a news world driven by what’s trending on Google (which often includes any news item involving Google itself). So on Tuesday, the former Minnesota governor proposed a “Google Test,” as he made the standard Republican pitch for spending cuts.

“If you can find a service or good available on Google or the Internet, then the federal government probably doesn’t need to be doing it,” said Mr. Pawlenty, speaking at the University of Chicago. “The post office, the Government Printing Office, Amtrak, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, were all built for a time in our country when the private sector did not adequately provide those products. But that’s no longer the case.”

Never mind that there really is no private-sector alternative to some things the US Postal Service does, such as rural mail delivery. Or Amtrak, outside of its most-trafficked routes. Pawlenty was making a point, and by invoking Google, it’s possible that some element of his speech will break through the miasma of junk news (dominated today by the antics of a Democrat, one Rep. Anthony Weiner).

Otherwise, Pawlenty laid out an economic plan that borrowed from former President Reagan and went farther, in some ways, than House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, the wunderkind of modern-day economic conservatism. Pawlenty would reduce the corporate tax rate to 15 percent, down from its current 35 percent. He would close loopholes to make up for some of the lost revenue.

Taxpayers would be subject to a “simpler, fairer, flatter” tax system, with just two rates, 10 percent and 25 percent, depending on household income. An individual earning up to $50,000 or a joint income up to $100,000 would pay 10 percent. Income above that would be taxed at 25 percent. Those who currently do not pay income tax would still pay nothing.

Pawlenty would eliminate taxes on capital gains, interest income, dividends, and estates.

Speaking just a stone’s throw away from where President Obama used to teach, the Minnesotan went after the president for playing what he called “class warfare.”

“Elected with a call for unity and hope, he spent three years dividing our nation,“ Pawlenty said. “He’s been fanning the flames of class envy and resentment all across America to deflect attention from his own failures and the economic hardship they have visited on America.”

There’s no doubt that Americans are feeling the economic hardship that Pawlenty noted, and that Mr. Obama is facing blame from voters for his handling of the economy. An ABC News/Washington Post poll out Tuesday shows 59 percent of Americans fault Obama on his economic performance, an all-time high for his presidency.

For Pawlenty, the most important aspect of his Chicago economic speech may simply be that he put out a plan, making him the first GOP contender to release a detailed policy proposal of the 2012 cycle. Most voters don’t absorb the details of multipart candidate plans.

But at some point, if Pawlenty is going to catch on, there needs to be a spark with voters.

“He’s doing everything right,” says Fergus Cullen, a former GOP chair in New Hampshire. That means accepting invitations to appear before ready-made audiences in early primary states, and keeping his name in the news.

“Something tells me Pawlenty gains w all the hype & drama around Palin & Trump,” former George W. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer tweeted last week. “Sometimes slow & steady does win the race.”

So far, it’s not happening. But then, it’s still early.

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