Pawlenty wants more troops in Afghanistan; knocks Obama on spending

During a firefight with Taliban militants, a spent shell casing flies through the air as U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Christie, of Washington, Ind. with 3rd Platoon, Bravo Company, 1st Battalion 5th Marines returns fire, in Nawa district, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2009. Taliban militants opened fire on the Marine patrol. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
AP Photo/Brennan Linsley

As President Obama grapples with the best way to handle the situation in Afghanistan, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is being straightforward as possible.

Pawlenty said this on Fred Thompson's radio show:

"I believe that the commanders on the ground are saying 'We have to have more troops.' I think in order to protect the troops that are there, and to complete the mission, we should honor that request and implement that request," Pawlenty said. "I don't know if President Obama is going to do that. I think he should."

Pawlenty has been out front about his support for the military since he took office in 2003. He's attended troop deployment ceremonies, visited Minnesota National Guard members in Iraq, Afghanistan and eastern Europe, and increased state funding for veterans services.

Pawlenty's unwavering support for the troops comes at a time when he has ramped up his criticism of the federal debt.

The White House and the Congressional Budget Office say the federal deficit will be nearly $1.6 trillion this year, contributing to a total debt of nearly $11.9 trillion. At nearly every stump speech, Pawlenty blames President Obama.

At the Minnesota Republican Party's state convention earlier this month, Pawlenty railed on Obama's fiscal policies:

"Mr. President, you said 'We don't have any more money as a nation.' Well, if we don't have any money, stop spending it," he said. "Second of all, stop taxing us into oblivion. Stop spending us into bankruptcy and the next time you have the chance to address the young people of America, maybe you should apologize for dumping this crushing amount of debt on their head and shoulders."

But Pawlenty's support for a troop increase in Afghanistan will contribute to the debt he complains about.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that Congress has approved a total of $864 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001. That same report says the Pentagon costs for the war in Afghanistan run an average of $2.6 billion a month - money that the federal government is currently borrowing.

When asked about how he balanced the concern over the deficit with his wish to send more troops to Afghanistan, Pawlenty said the military is not "the main reason for the deficit exponentially growing."

"The expenditures for the military are of primary importance," he said. "It's the domestic policies and spending including the federal bailouts, the stimulus package, cash for clunkers, the federalization of health care. These are the things that are dramatically growing the budget.

"The military is less of a factor in that that regard and it's also a higher priority in my view."

Maya MacGuineas, president of a bipartisan group called the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget said Pawlenty is right that the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are a contributing factor to the rising federal deficit but aren't the main reason the debt is climbing, but she said Pawlenty is wrong that the stimulus package, cash for clunkers and the bailouts are the main driver of the deficit.

"The real growth of the budget deficits do come from domestic policies, but it's not the policies that were put in place temporarily to deal with the economic downturn," MacGuineas said.

"Nobody would say that things that cost hundreds of billions of dollars aren't a serious cost in the budget. Of course they are. But neither TARP nor the wars are the kind of permanent policies in the budget and never go away."

MacGuineas said federal entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are the real reason the deficit is growing so fast. She said an aging baby boomer population and rising health care costs will continue to expand the deficit.

MacGuineas and Isabel Sawhill with the Brookings Institution say the deficit can't be fixed by spending cuts alone.

Sawhill said spending cuts and tax increases, something Pawlenty has long opposed, are needed to fix the problem.

"I would try to get entitlement spending under control but I also see no way that we can get around the need to raise revenues," Sawhill said. "There aren't enough spending cuts that are reasonable to close the gap that we face. The gap is so large."

Sawhill said another fast growing part of the deficit is interest. In fiscal year 2008, the federal government paid $451 billion in interest on the federal debt.

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