Pawlenty: Obama 'Ducking, Bobbing and Weaving,' Not Addressing Country's Problems

This is a rush transcript from "On the Record," May 23, 2011. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GRETA VAN SUSTEREN, FOX NEWS HOST: Governor Tim Pawlenty makes it official. He wants to be your president. So here are a couple questions. Does he back Congressman Ryan's budget? And why does Minnesota's last Republican governor not support him? Former governor and Republican presidential contender Tim Pawlenty joins us for his first cable news interview since his announcement.

Good evening, sir.


VAN SUSTEREN: Nice to see you. And I guess what's turning into be a little bit of a Republican litmus test in the last week or so is whether or not you support Congressman Ryan's budget bill or not.

PAWLENTY: Well, I applaud Congressman Ryan's direction and leadership. He had the courage to put something on the table when President Obama didn't, and he's transformed the debate. As a candidate, I'll have my own plan. It'll have some similarities, many similarities to Paul's, but it'll also have some additional things. For example, he chose for understandable reasons not to address Social Security. My plan will. We're talking about that specifically. We'll have some other supplements, as well. But in general direction, I strongly support what he's doing.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, Social Security -- that's -- you know, everyone in this country loves Social Security, I think. I mean, I think we all realize the financial cost, but we like to make sure that our parents are taken care of, and people who have paid into it for years, you know, expect to get it. What are you sort of envisioning? And I know that this is sort of -- you know, no one wants to cut Social Security, but many believe we have to do something with it. What's your idea?

PAWLENTY: Well, Greta, I'm running for president because we got a deficit and debt that's out of control. We got to bring that back into control. And we've got an economy that needs to grow. And a big part of that is reducing and reforming entitlement programs. That's just the truth, and our theme of our announcement this morning was telling truth to the American people.

And on Social Security, we have to look people in the eye and tell them this. For the new people coming into the workforce in the system, we have to raise the retirement age gradually over time. We're also going to have to look the American people in the eye and tell them this truth. If you're wealthy, you're not going to get your annual cost of living adjustment. But if you're middle or lower income, you will. And a few other changes like that.

We're not going to be able to solve this problem if we just say the only people who are going to affected are somebody else or some other program. So I'm looking folks in the eye, telling them what it's going to take get out of this mess that we're in. And we're telling them the truth, and I think America will respond and respect that. And together, we can fix this country and get it back on track.

VAN SUSTEREN: Telling the truth sounds a little bit like "straight talk," and that didn't work the last go-around for the Republican Party. So how do you sort of -- how do you now convince the American people that telling the truth -- I mean, no one's going to want to hear that. I mean, no one wants to hear these cuts.

PAWLENTY: Well, today in Iowa, Greta, we said we needed to phase out ethanol subsidies. Of course, I'm now in Florida talking about Social Security. We're going to go to Wall Street tomorrow or the day after and tell Wall Street no more bailouts. We're sick of having the federal government clean up their mess, and around the country. And this is what the country needs. And I'm going to campaign on telling the truth and defining the problem in real terms and putting solutions out there in real terms.

And so it may not be popular, but it's the way forward. And I believe the American people will respond and respect to somebody shooting it to them straight and telling the truth. And I'm going to do it.

President Obama won't do it. We got $4-a-gallon gas. We got a federal government that's out of control, and we got unemployment that's crushing average Americans that can't find work or worried about their jobs. And we need to have a president who will step forward and solve the problems and provide real solutions, and he won't do it.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right, you talk about unemployment and deficit -- I mean, and budget problems. While you were in office, the unemployment level in Minnesota went up 2.2 percent. That's not a good statistic. The deficit when you left was $6.5 billion, something that you're getting hammered by your -- by the current Minnesota governor, who's a Democrat, and I assume party politics. But the former Republican governor of Minnesota -- he's slamming you, as well. So why you?

PAWLENTY: Well, as it relates to the unemployment number, actually, Greta, when I left office, it was a little less than 7 percent. It was one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Our job growth rate from the crash until I left office was one of the fastest job growth rates in the country. And our income growth, our personal income growth rate was one of the highest in the country. So that's just not accurate as to those measures.

And as to former Governor Carlson, he's a Republican, was a Republican, but he became an Obama supporter and John Kerry supporter. He's not a neutral observer of anything.

And as to the budgets, I balanced the budget every time, every budget cycle when I was governor of the state of Minnesota. The constitution requires it, and I did it. And by the way, the last budget of mine ends this summer, and it's going to end in the black. And as to those in the future, they assume massive spending increases that I would never allowed had I continued on as governor.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, what is now being said is that you had some accounting gimmicks where you'd, like -- you would delay spending and you would, you know, accelerate revenues in order to achieve those balanced budgets, creating a bigger problem down the road. Is that not true?

PAWLENTY: Well, one of the things that they focus on in that regard is to say the school payments, which we deferred, I guess would be the word -- I wanted to make them permanent. I wanted to make those deferrals permanent reductions in school funding, but my Democrat legislature refused to do it. By the way, now the legislature looks like they are going to do it. So my position is going to prevail in that, as well.

VAN SUSTEREN: Well, there was some point -- and I realize you got a Democratic legislature, and always when it's cross party, it's very difficult to get anything done, whether it's a Republican, Democrat, Democrat, Republican. But -- and President Obama is finding a little bit that now that he finds that he has a very different House of Representatives. How do you tell the American people that you can sort of cross that divide and with a divided government even be persuasive and achieve stuff in the face of a gridlock?

PAWLENTY: Look, the Cato Institute gave me an A grade, only one of four governors in the country to get that, for financial management. There's only three others who got it, and they're not running for president. In Minnesota, one of the bluest states, one of the most liberal states in the country -- I love my state, but let's face it, it's kind of out there on the left of the political continuum.

I cut taxes net during my time as governor. We brought spending down to historical lows in terms of the levels. We did school reform that focused on performance pay for teachers, market-based health care reform. I did public employee pension reforms before it was cool and popular, Welfare reform, tort reform. Everything the country's talking about and needs now, I actually did.

And this is going to be a big point in this race. Many of the other candidates are going to be saying many of the same things on these issues, but I actually did them.

VAN SUSTEREN: The -- your platform today -- and I realize that -- I mean, or what you said today is that you're going to start -- you're going to tell the truth. The implication when you say that is that the current administration is not telling the truth. So where are they, quote, "not telling the truth"?

PAWLENTY: Well, first of all, President Obama won't even address the major spending and deficit problems in the country. He has no plan for reforming Social Security. He has no plan for reforming Medicare. He has no plan for reforming Medicaid to speak of. Until Paul Ryan put his plan on the table, the sum total of President Obama's proposed cuts over the next 10 years was about $40 billion -- with a B -- a year, when, in fact, he was planning on trillion dollar deficits each year for as far as the eye can see. He wasn't even in the same orbit of the need that this country has.

And so he's ducking. He's bobbing. He's weaving. He's not telling people what it's going to take to really fix the problems. He's not even really identifying the problems. We need a president that will do better than that. America deserves better than that, Greta!

VAN SUSTEREN: What's the best thing President Obama's done and what's the worst thing as president?

PAWLENTY: Well, the best thing he's clearly done is to find and kill Usama bin Laden. And applaud him, but I also applaud the Navy SEALs who did that. I applaud President Bush and all the previous work that was done to do the interrogations and the other work, some of which appears to have led to Usama bin Laden. And by the way, President Obama when he was a candidate opposed all of that.

And then he's done a lot of really bad things. But I think one of the worst things that he's done for the country is to run deficits through the roof. The federal government takes in $2.2 trillion or so a year. He's spending $3.7 trillion this year. It's out of control. It's reckless. It's going to ruin the country. And we need somebody who's going to get this country back on track.

And that's going to take fortitude, and I did it as a conservative in Minnesota. And if we can do it there, we can do it anywhere, including in Washington, D.C.

VAN SUSTEREN: Governor, thank you, and good luck, sir.

PAWLENTY: All right, Greta. Thanks for having me.