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Tim Pawlenty answers questions on debt ceiling, gay marriage and immigration

From talking gay marriage to global warming to immigration and taxes, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty, visiting Florida, talked to The Miami Herald about the issues of the campaign and his record as Minnesota governor. Here’s a partial transcript:

Q: You’re racking up endorsements from top Florida legislators, but stuck at the bottom of the polls here. Why?

Pawlenty: “The early days of campaigning in a state like Florida are retail..Early polls don’t predict anything, ultimately. If they did, Hillary Clinton or Rudy Giuliani would be president today. National polls basically always misinterpret the final outcome or mis-predict the final outcome.”

Q: What do you think of the debt ceiling deal?

Pawlenty: “The debt ceiling agreement was really disappointing. They didn’t really fix the underlying structural problem of the country... I don’t think underwhelming or disappointing or mediocre or below average or flat-out pathetic is good enough for America anymore... We should have a president who’s leading the debate on these issues. And instead he’s hiding, he’s ducking, he’s bobbing, he’s weaving. You can’t even find him on the major financial issues of our day... Most of the things that they’ve now promised are in the future. They’re contingent upon future action. And guess what? A future president and a future Congress could undo or duck all of those as well."

Q: What would you do with Social Security?

Pawlenty: “If you’re on the program now or anywhere near eligibility, you shouldn’t have your benefits impacted. But if you’re in the next generation, we’re telling you now with several decades of warning, we’re going to gradually raise the retirement age over time. If you’re lower income or middle income, you should still get your cost-of-living adjustment. But in the future, if you’re real wealthy, we’re going to have to slow that down or take it away.”

Q: Some of the increased spending happened in the Bush years, when two wars, a new Medicare prescription drug entitlement program and tax cuts were approved. Why not scale back all of that, including the tax cuts?

Pawlenty: “You have to look back at what got us into the mess. And, again, revenues kept up with the private economy. It’s the government spending that went way beyond thatWhen President Bush left office, the deficit was approximately $500 billion. It is now approximately now $1.5 trillion. In other words, President Obama has essentially tripled the deficit. To make matters worse, he promised in the first few months of his presidency that he would cut the deficit in half during his first term.”

Q: Part of the Obama deficit was the stimulus, but a number of Republican governors such as yourself both bashed it and took the money at the same time. How do you explain that?

Pawlenty: “There’s a lot of reasons for it. If the federal government is dumb enough to give it to us, we’ll be smart enough to take it. In Minnesota’s case, we are not a net taker of money from the federal government..”

Q: Do you think there’s man-made climate change?

Pawlenty: “Well, there’s definitely climate change. The more interesting question is how much is a result of natural causes and how much, if any, is attributable to human behavior. And that’s what the scientific dispute is about.”

Q: On immigration, how about requiring private-employers to use the E-Verify system. Should there be that mandate?

Pawlenty: “The system we have now is a 1950s paper-based system that is susceptible to fraud. So in the year 2011, in the world of iPads and instant everything, it’s reasonable to have a more modern, more accurate, less burdensome verification system.... It’s incumbent on the federal government to have a system that employers can use that is quick, fair, accurate, non-burdensome that verifies somebody’s eligibility for employment or public benefitsWe should say to private employers, if you knowingly hire illegal immigrants, there’s going to be a consequence. I underline the word ‘knowingly.’ And you make available a system like E-Verify. I don’t know that you need to require them to use it.”

Q: A gay conservative group (GOProud) won’t be allowed to participate in the Conservative Political Action Committee conference. What do you think of that?

Pawlenty: “I’m not familiar with that particular controversy. But I don’t think Republicans or conservatives should be afraid of debating the issues. We can agree or disagree on the merits of it. I’m for more debate, not less debate.”

Q: How about gay marriage?

Pawlenty: “When I was in the Minnesota Legislature, I was a co-author of the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as between a man and a woman. I support a state and federal amendment to the constitutions defining amendments as such.”

Q: How do you support being a small-government conservative, yet favor this government limitation on private individuals?

Pawlenty: “The Constitution and our statutes and laws more broadly grant or prohibit all kinds of behaviors or rights. So I don’t think it’s out of bounds in that regard... We have courts who have demonstrated they think they know better than the people on our statutes. And they feel that they should insert their personal or political views into these matters. And the only way to limit court excesses in that regard is to put it in our statutes and our Constitution.”

Q: Name a regret in the campaign.

Pawlenty: “In one of the debates I had recently, I was asked a direct point about Massachusetts’ healthcare and I stayed focused on Obama, didn’t answer the question about Mitt [Romney’s] role in healthcare in Massachusetts. That was viewed by some as a missed opportunity. I think it was. It’s something I would have done differently. The Massachusetts healthcare plan was the blueprint or the forerunner of ObamaCare.”

For a fuller transcript, please see The Miami Herald’s political blog, Naked Politics,

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