WASHINGTON, May 29, 2011 -- Republican presidential candidate and former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty says that while he plans to introduce his own budget plan in coming weeks, if he were president today and it came to his desk, he would support Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) budget proposal to overhaul the Medicare system.
"Let me start by saying my campaign is based around the notion that it's time for the truth, so as to Medicare, everybody knows it's sinking. It's going broke," Pawlenty told This Week anchor Christiane Amanpour. "So we have to fix it."
"I'll have my own plan. It will have some differences" from the Ryan proposal, Pawlenty added, saying his budget plan will address Social Security reform, which Ryan's does not. "But if the only choice is we're doing nothing, like President Obama is doing and Paul Ryan's plan, I'd sign it."
Pawlenty had sidestepped a firm answer on whether he would support the Ryan budget for much of his first week on the campaign trail, before making similar comments in support of Ryan's plan in New Hampshire on Thursday.
Pawlenty said his Medicare plan will allow individuals to choose to stay in the current Medicare system, while offering "a series of other choices so they can pick what's best for them and their families and then they'll have the opportunity to be in the driver's seat."
Pawlenty also hopes to alter the way providers are paid, moving to "a performance pay system, not just a volume pay system."
"We're not going to pay Medicare providers, under my plan, just for volumes of services provided," Pawlenty said. "We're going to pay for better results and better health care outcome and we're going to put hospitals and clinics and providers on a performance pay system, not just a volume pay system."
On another major budget issue consuming Washington, Pawlenty also said he does not support raising the debt ceiling without permanent structural reform to spending, while questioning "the false choice between default and rais[ing] the debt ceiling."
"I don't think we should raise the debt ceiling," Pawlenty said. "And if the Congress moves in that direction, and the president, they'd better get something really good for it and it better be permanent and it better be structural, like a balanced budget amendment and like permanent caps and limits on spending that are specific, not just aspirational."
But despite massive looming deficits, Pawlenty said he does not believe defense spending should be cut.
"I'm not calling for absolute or real cuts in defense," Pawlenty said. I think the growth can be slowed down. I think efficiencies can be found within defense. But I think those monies should be plowed back into defense to support it."
Campaigning on "Hard Truths"
Pawlenty officially launched his presidential campaign in Iowa last week, telling supporters at an event in Des Moines on Monday that he planned to tell Americans "hard truths" in his campaign.
"Fluffy promises of hope and change don't buy our groceries, make our mortgage payments, or pay for our children's clothes," Pawlenty said in his announcement speech. "So in my campaign I'm going to take a different approach. I am going to tell you the truth. The truth is, Washington is broken."
Pawlenty told Amanpour he does not believe that all problems in Washington can be solved in a bipartisan way, saying "there are some sharp differences" on policy issues.
"I think any doofus can go to Washington, D.C. and maintain the status quo or incrementally change things," Pawlenty said. "But for the country, the hour is late. And we have to take significant action soon."
"This is time for people who are wanting to be leaders in a bold way to come forward and say we really have to change things significantly," Pawlenty added.
But while many consider Pawlenty a top-tier candidate who may give a strong challenge for the Republican nomination, he has yet to grow beyond low single digits in most polls of the GOP field.
When asked what it will take to raise his profile, Pawlenty responded that he is optimistic his campaign can grow, given that "only about 50 percent of the Republicans nationally even know my name."
"But I like the fact that most of the other candidates are really well known and yet they don't really have a strong, front-running position, and that gives us time and space to be able to advance our campaign," Pawlenty said.
And he said he hopes his blue collar upbringing and life experiences will help him connect with voters in places like Iowa and New Hampshire critical to the nomination process.
"In my hometown, when those big meatpacking plants shut down and we had all kinds of people in town unemployed and worried about their future? I saw the face of it real time at a real young age," Pawlenty said. "And so when people hear that, it just gives you a chance to have some credibility with them? You've actually lived it. You've walked in their shoes."