Jindal: Let's Have an Honest Debate

Jindal softens rhetoric on Obama but still criticizes his economic agenda.

April 16, 2009— -- "Tea parties" protesting President Obama's tax and spending agenda may have ended but opposition to his plans remains.

In an exclusive interview with "Good Morning America" today, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal praised steps the president has taken on Iraq but assailed earmarks and what he called wasteful spending in the $787 billion stimulus package.

"As an American, I very much worry about the spending out of Washington," Jindal, a supporter of the "tea parties," said. "We've got to balance our budget. We can't spend more than we take in. ... But in D.C., they continue to borrow and spend. Ultimately, that's going to be higher taxes for all of us."

Jindal rejected nearly $100 million in stimulus money for his state, left economically battered after Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana and surrounding states in 2005.

But economists say the $51 billion in federal money since then has helped keep the state's unemployment rate at around 5.7 percent, well below the national average.

Jindal said he and other Republicans don't claim there shouldn't be any government spending, only that it should be "targeted" and "responsible."

The 37-year-old governor, who has been traveling around the country for his second gubernatorial bid, refused to say whether he will run for president in 2012.

He also played down his status as the rising star of the Republican Party.

"Let's stop worrying about the messenger," he said. "Let's focus on the message of the substance. Let's show people we've got relevant solutions."

Jindal's tone today on Obama was relatively softer than that in February, when he assailed the president's stimulus plan for being full of wasteful spending in the Republican response to the president's speech to the Congress. The governor has taken the lead among his peers in criticizing the administration's economic recovery program. But he expressed a softer side today, saying, "We should give the new administration a chance.

"I don't think we should question Obama's patriotism. ... I am pleasantly surprised to see President Obama showing more flexibility when it comes to Iraq, not what campaign rhetoric suggested," he told "GMA's" Robin Roberts. "At the end of the day, I don't think we should be questioning the administration's intention, but I think it's good to have an honest debate."

Opposition to Obama

As Obama heads to Mexico to talk about trade, drug-related violence and the economy on his first trip south of the border, he is facing increasing opposition from Republicans at home on other hot-button issues on his agenda, including energy and immigration.

The main issue at the Summit of the Americas to be held this weekend in Trinidad and Tobago is the economy, where the president is expected to continue to talk about the silver lining.

The president said this week that glimmers of hope are returning to the U.S. economy but warned that the country is still not out of the woods yet.

"In just under three months, we've responded to an extraordinary set of economic challenges with extraordinary action -- action that's been unprecedented both in terms of its scale and its speed. ... Because of our recovery plan, schools and police departments have canceled planned layoffs. Clean energy companies and construction companies are rehiring workers to build everything from energy-efficient windows to new roads and highways," he said at a 45-minute speech at Georgetown University Tuesday. "By no means are we out of the woods just yet. But from where we stand, for the very first time, we're beginning to see glimmers of hope."

But the president has yet to convince his opponents, as evidenced by the thousands of Republicans and proponents of smaller government who gathered Wednesday for "Tea Parties" across the country.

"I think this is a major turning point as Americans stand up and say to their politicians, 'Enough, no more big spending, no more big deficit, no more tax increase,'" former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said.

Republicans are also lashing out at a Department of Homeland Security report, which warns that right-wing extremists could use the state of the economy as a tool to recruit members, specifically pointing out veterans who have not been able to settle back into their home communities.

Republicans have also criticized the president's trips, saying he should stay in Washington to deal with the problems at home.

"At some point, we have to stop going overseas and stop apologizing [for] and criticizing our predecessors," Jindal said.

The Next Ronald Reagan?

The son of Indian immigrants, Jindal has been hailed as the Republican Party's next Ronald Reagan and future of the GOP party.

"Gov. Jindal embodies what I have long said: The Republican Party must not be simply the party of 'opposition,' but the party of better solutions," House minority leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, has said of him.

Jindal ascended into the national spotlight in October 2007, when the then-36 year old became the country's first Indian-American governor, achieving a 53 percent victory in Louisiana's gubernatorial race, and at that time the youngest-serving governor in the country.

Jindal vowed at the time to end corruption in state government and revive the hurricane-battered state.

"If I go down as one of the more boring but effective governors, I'll take that as a great compliment," he said at the time. "Our people don't want to be amused by our politics anymore. We don't want to be entertained."

Born "Piyush," Jindal officially changed his name and converted to Catholicism in his late teens. He holds degrees from Brown and Oxford and made his debut into public office at 24 as head of the state Department of Health and Hospitals. Before moving into the governor's mansion, Jindal served two terms as a congressman.

He has taken the lead in the Republican Party opposing the new administration's economic agenda. But the young Louisiana governor was panned for his delivery of the Republican response to Obama's speech to Congress in February. But that has not deterred him or the Republican Party, which continues to strengthen its grassroots efforts to mobilize opposition against the new administration.

ABC News' Jake Tapper contributed to this report.