Pawlenty Dumps Tea Party On Defense Spending

March 17, 2011 12:55 pm ET — Matt Finkelstein

Tim Pawlenty

Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) has been touring the country in advance of an expected presidential run, aligning himself closely with the Tea Party on the stump and in the media. However, on the key issue of defense spending, Pawlenty is siding with the Republican establishment over Tea Party types, who generally believe cuts to the bloated Pentagon budget should be on the table. From Politico (via Steve Benen):

A day after Haley Barbour called for cuts in defense spending, Tim Pawlenty went the other way.

"I don't think we should be talking about cutting the Pentagon's budget," the former Minnesota governor told POLITICO after a speech at the Aiken Republican Club here. "I think we should be talking about looking for those areas where we might some efficiencies or redeploying money spent on defense to higher-priority areas within defense. In other words keep the defense budget intact, but if we find some savings, some efficiencies, some ways to redeploy money we should do that."

For a politician who likes to talk tough about fiscal responsibility, it's difficult to overstate how weak Pawlenty's stance is. Essentially, the former governor is acknowledging that there is waste in the defense budget, but rather than eliminating it, he wants to find new ways to spend the money. Pawlenty's position stands in stark contrast to other conservative deficit hawks, who agree that any serious deficit reduction plan should include defense spending.

Pawlenty might have been responding to Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, a likely primary opponent, who is not known as a Tea Partier but recently endorsed defense cuts. "We can save money on defense and if we Republicans don't propose saving money on defense, we'll have no credibility on anything else," Barbour said.