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NBC's Gregory Grills Pawlenty on GOP 'Purity Test' on Taxes

In an interview with Tim Pawlenty on Sunday's NBC Meet the Press, host David Gregory cited New York Times columnist David Brooks slamming Republican opposition to tax increases in debt ceiling negotiations as "fanaticism" and proclaimed: "There is this purity test which is no tax increases, no revenue increases at all."

Pawlenty responded by pointing out Brooks's liberal leanings: "Well, with all due respect to, to David Brooks, this is not the time for Rockefeller Republicanism." Gregory continued to push for the GOP to accept tax hikes as part of a deal: "Is that good governing for Republicans who control the House to say, 'Sorry, no tax increases period,' even when they're looking at getting potentially $4 trillion in spending cuts?"

Gregory further interrogated Pawlenty: "Would you be open to any revenue increases if it would help you get a deal on the scale of trillions of dollars of spending cuts?" Pawlenty held firm: "We shouldn't raise taxes." Gregory insisted: "So even if it means that the debt ceiling is not raised?...You're willing to face the credit rating dropping and the catastrophic effects that the Treasury Secretary describes?"

At the beginning of the interview, Gregory touted comments made by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner earlier on the broadcast: "You just heard the Treasury Secretary talking about the economy saying, 'Look, Republicans don't have a choice. Raise this debt limit or America's credit rating is in danger.' Can I get reaction to that?"

Pawlenty replied: "He was blaming President Bush, blaming the weather, blaming the Republicans. We're almost three years into this administration. President Obama should look in the mirror to see who's to blame for the economy in its current state, and it's not doing well." Gregory incredulously asked: "Why is he to blame? Are you suggesting the President's to blame?" Pawlenty explained: "Well, he's the leader of our country, and he's the person who sets the tone and tempo and vision for our country, including economic policy. And he's doing things that are suffocating the private economy..."

Later, in a roundtable discussion with liberal Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson and chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd, Gregory summed up Pawlenty's stance on the debt ceiling: "...willing, it seems like, to go with the most conservative line, which is, you know, 'Default be damned, we're going to keep opposing.'"

Here is a partial transcript of the July 10 segment:

DAVID GREGORY: Our 'Meet the Candidate' series continues this morning with former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty. Welcome back to Meet the Press.

TIM PAWLENTY: Thanks for having me, David.

GREGORY: Good to see you, Governor. I, I want to just get a headline reaction from you here. You just heard the Treasury Secretary talking about the economy saying, 'Look, Republicans don't have a choice. Raise this debt limit or America's credit rating is in danger.' Can I get reaction to that, and then we'll get back to the economy?

PAWLENTY: Well, sure. But he said something else, David, that I think is important. He was blaming President Bush, blaming the weather, blaming the Republicans. We're almost three years into this administration. President Obama should look in the mirror to see who's to blame for the economy in its current state, and it's not doing well. And as to the debt ceiling-

GREGORY: Why is he to blame? Are you suggesting the President's to blame?

PAWLENTY: Of course.

GREGORY: Why?

PAWLENTY: Well, he's the leader of our country, and he's the person who sets the tone and tempo and vision for our country, including economic policy. And he's doing things that are suffocating the private economy instead of doing those things to grow the economy, like cutting taxes, shrinking government, and doing the things that the job providers say would actually make a difference, which is get the government off their backs.

GREGORY: Let me stop you on that point. I'm curious, though, as a Republican who believes in basically boilerplate Republican economic philosophy, right? Cut taxes, cut regulation. Even in economic boom times, the past 30 years, middle class wages have not increased. As a Republican, what are you going to do about that?

PAWLENTY: We've got to get the private economy going. And how, how's the Obama approach working? When he ran for President of the United States, he went around the country, made all these grand promises, this soaring rhetoric. He got to implement his plan, a stimulus bill, 800 plus billion dollars. He said unemployment could go up to 8 percent if they didn't pass it. Now, how's it working? The answer is it's not. He's got an – we've got an unconstitutional health care bill. We've got tax policy and regulatory policies that our private businesses are saying are suffocating their entrepreneurial spirit and their desire to grow jobs in this country. And he's got us on the wrong track.

You've got to do the things like I did in Minnesota: cut taxes, you've got to bring down spending, you've got to get those things in line with respect to health care that are going to bring down costs, not just expand access and the like. Those are the kinds of things that the people who actually know what they're talking about, who are providing jobs in this country, would say would make a difference.

(...)

GREGORY: But what about the question of what you have to be willing to cut or willing to raise? This is what David Brooks wrote in his column, I'm sure you've seen this week, about the Republican Party: 'The struggles of the next few weeks are about what sort of party the GOP is – a normal conservative party or an odd protest movement that has separated itself from normal governance, the normal rules of evidence and the ancient habits of our nation. If the debt ceiling talks fail, independent voters will see that Democrats were willing to compromise but Republicans were not. If responsible Republicans don't take control, independents will conclude that Republican fanaticism caused the default. They will conclude that Republicans are not fit to govern. And they will be right.'

PAWLENTY: Well, with all due respect to, to David Brooks, this is not the time for Rockefeller Republicanism. We've got a country that is sinking. We've got a country that is on the verge of a crisis in this debt ceiling issue, and that's just one symptom of much larger problems. And so, if the answer is just to split the difference with the Democrats and be for tax increases, be for more spending, but just a little less than the Democrats, that's not what I believe.

GREGORY: But that's actually-

PAWLENTY: That's what Barack Obama believes.

GREGORY: But that is not factual. That's not the deal on the table. There was an opportunity for $4 trillion in spending cuts, a few hundred billion dollars in terms of revenue increases. But there is this purity test which is no tax increases, no revenue increases at all. The Treasury Secretary says that's just not a balanced approach. Is that good governing for Republicans who control the House to say, 'Sorry, no tax increases period,' even when they're looking at getting potentially $4 trillion in spending cuts?

PAWLENTY: But David, we don't know what the deal was because we haven't seen the details. But if you look at how we got in this mess, and you look at the growth of the private economy, and you look at the relative growth of government spending vs. the growth in, in tax revenues...

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

PAWLENTY: ...the revenues are not what's out of balance. It's the spending that's out of balance. You can't be a fair-minded person and say, look at this thing over the last 10, 20 years, and say that it is the revenues that have somehow not kept pace with the private economy. What's happened is government spending has gone up way beyond that. That's how we got in the hole.

GREGORY: But-

PAWLENTY: So you have to define balance in context.

GREGORY: Alright, but are you saying – would you be open to any revenue increases if it would help you get a deal on the scale of trillions of dollars of spending cuts?

PAWLENTY: The United States federal government is not undertaxed. It spends too darn much.

GREGORY: So your answer is no, you would not entertain that.

PAWLENTY: That's, that's right. We shouldn't raise taxes.

GREGORY: So even if it means that the debt ceiling is not raised?

PAWLENTY: That's the approach I took in Minnesota. We have to draw the line in the sand. That's why I shut down government in Minnesota.

GREGORY: You're willing to face the credit rating dropping and the catastrophic effects that the Treasury Secretary describes?

PAWLENTY: What I'm willing to do is tell the President of the United States that if he wants the debt ceiling raised, then he should do those things I described earlier. And he's the one who should slow down the spending and get the thing back under control. The reforms that I mentioned earlier are the right reforms, and there – there's no objection to them in terms of the President's willingness or desire, I should say, to do those, and he won't do them. But why, why is he opposed to a constitutional amendment to balance the budget? Why would he be opposed to that?

GREGORY: Mm-hmm.

PAWLENTY: Why would anybody be opposed to that? So why can't we ask President Obama to come in that direction? He's the one who is supposed to set the tone and the tempo for this country, and he's not doing it.

(...)

- Kyle Drennen is a news analyst at the Media Research Center. Click here to follow Kyle Drennen on Twitter.