Bachmann Blasts Pawlenty’s Minnesota Budget Mess

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The battle between Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has mostly been a one-sided affair thus far. As Bachmann has jumped to the top of the polls in Iowa and Pawlenty has plummeted, the former governor has stepped up his criticisms of Bachmann, arguing that she’s never actually accomplished anything during her decade as a legislator. Bachmann has largely stayed mum, but now, perhaps spying a chance to drive a stake through an opponent who’s polling at 2 percent nationally, she’s gone on the attack. Here’s what she emailed to supporters on Sunday:

Actions speak louder than words. When I was fighting against the unconstitutional individual mandate in healthcare, Governor Pawlenty was praising it. I have fought against irresponsible spending while Governor Pawlenty was leaving a multi-billion-dollar budget mess in Minnesota. I fought cap-and-trade. Governor Pawlenty backed cap-and-trade when he was Governor of Minnesota and put Minnesota into the multi-state Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord. While Governor Pawlenty was praising TARP—the $700 billion bailout in 2008—I worked tirelessly against it and voted against it.

Hey, this Pawlenty guy doesn’t sound so bad! The cap-and-trade and TARP hits were a given—Pawlenty likes to refer to those positions as his “clunkers”—but the budget criticism is something new, and it’s especially noteworthy because Pawlenty’s claims of balancing budgets and cutting spending are his top talking points on the campaign trail. On this front, Bachmann is right. As I’ve reported, Pawlenty balanced Minnesota’s budget through a series of tricky accounting maneuvers. He would defer payments or take out loans that didn’t need to be paid off until after his term was over. Most glaringly, his push to cut taxes and spending at the state level forced local governments to pick up the slack, so real spending did not actually decline. A little bit of accounting wizardry is necessary sometimes; most governors do it. But it’s not what comes to mind when you think of the “tough choices” Pawlenty has promised.

Up until now, though, fellow Republicans have been reluctant to call Pawlenty out on his budget bluster, likely because their own ideas are mathematically flawed to some degree. The Paul Ryan budget (which Bachmann supports) would require raising the debt ceiling (which Bachmann opposes). And in Texas, Gov. Rick Perry, seen as Bachmann’s top rival in Iowa should he jump in the race, recently employed more or less the Pawlenty method to balance the state’s budget. As the AP described it, Texas relied on “accounting maneuvers, rewriting school funding laws, ignoring a growing population and delaying payments on bills coming due in 2013.”

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