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WASHINGTON-Gov. Tim Pawlenty, meeting with President Obama and a group of the nation's governors, said Monday that Minnesota will use all of the funds available to it under the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
While Pawlenty joined other Republican governors in criticizing much of the spending in the federal package, he said, "it is now the law, and we have the responsibility to deploy it and to use it."
Pawlenty's remarks on the front lawn of the White House were in contrast to a few other GOP governors, led by Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who have said they might turn down portions of the package that require their states to match federal dollars to expand unemployment benefits.
Minnesota's benefits already meet the federal requirements, "so we don't have those same concerns," he said.
In Washington for a meeting of the National Governors Association (NGA), Pawlenty dined and danced at the White House on Sunday night with his 16-year-old daughter, Anna, who, as a birthday gift, took the place of Minnesota First Lady Mary Pawlenty.
Pawlenty said Obama personally encouraged him to get up and dance with his daughter to the music of Earth Wind & Fire, which was performing live. "I said I would, but I dance like Al Gore," Pawlenty said.
Hold the anchovies
The NGA meeting provided a number of potential 2012 GOP presidential contenders a chance to grab the national spotlight. Pawlenty, considered a top contender for the 2008 Republican vice presidential slot, used his turn at the dais with Iowa Democratic Gov. Chet Culver to tout a national renewable energy standard.
Although the stimulus law contains new spending on renewable energy, Pawlenty has given the overall package a cool response, blasting it as "a meandering spending buffet" that goes too far beyond "meat and potatoes" tax cuts and infrastructure investments.
At the White House, however, he defended his decision to take the money.
"Minnesota is a major net contributor to the federal government," he said. "For every dollar we send out ... we only get 72 cents back. So, if you're buying the pizza, it's OK to have your slice, even if there are some anchovies on it."
Pawlenty and NGA Chairman Ed Rendell, D-Pa., noted that the areas on which governors disagreed about taking money account for only about 2 percent of the overall stimulus spending.
During the meeting, Obama told the governors: "... If we agree on 90 percent of this stuff, and we're spending all of our time on television arguing about 1, 2, 3 percent. ... That starts to sound a little like politics."
Afterward, Rendell said: "This is sound and fury signifying almost nothing."
On another subject, Pawlenty acknowledged some "back channel chatter," about a possible presidential run but said he has yet to make up his mind about whether he will seek a third term as governor in 2010. "I've got my hands full with an economic crisis, as most governors do," he said.
Wishing Obama well
Despite his coolness to the stimulus plan, Pawlenty said he is confident in Minnesota's ability to use the money well. "It's a lot of work, but it's something that's going to have a lot of positive features for our state," he said. "We're going to work as hard as we can on making sure it's effective in stimulating the economy and creating jobs."
Nevertheless, he said the plan is only a small part of the equation in solving the nation's economic woes. "The thing that worries me is everybody's focused on the stimulus bill, which is $800 billion, but the problem is in the trillions," he said.
He also said he wished Obama well in turning the economy around, even if it would help the Democrats hold the White House in 2012.
"Whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, our country needs to succeed," Pawlenty said. "We're in a deep crisis of historic magnitude, and you'd have to be really twisted, demented, I think, to not want the country to do well."
Obama met with a number of other people Monday during a White House "fiscal responsibility summit," including Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2750