Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty likes calling federal spending the "Ponzi scheme on the Potomac."
Scuffles over the theme went meta Monday. A former Reagan and Bush staffer criticized the governor, the Democratic National Committee upbraided Pawlenty, Pawlenty's political flack objected and the Democratic National Committee congratulated.
The dust up all goes back to Pawlenty dusting off his "Ponzi scheme" idea, which he used in his debut speech in New Hampshire last year, and in an expansive piece for Politico Monday, the online newspaper devoured by lovers of politics.
Here's what Pawlenty wrote:
"When the bathtub is overflowing, a wise first response is to turn off the faucet. The federal government’s spending-increase spigot needs to be shut off. This will require a national understanding and acceptance of the problem: We need to admit our addiction to the illusion of government “free stuff” and demand that spending be cut in almost all areas."
Bruce Bartlett, former Deputy Assistant Secretary for economic policy at the U.S. Treasury Department during the George H.W. Bush Administration, a senior policy analyst in the White House for Ronald Reagan, read the piece and said Pawlenty is all smoke and no substance. (Worth noting: Barlett says he "no longer" considers himself a Republican and says he is "very happy to be a political independent.")
In an online post, Barlett said Pawlenty's piece showed the Minnesota governor and potential 2012 hopeful, "is not ready for prime time. He may think he has found a clever way of appealing to the right wing tea party/Fox News crowd without having to propose any actual cuts in spending, but it isn’t going to work. It’s too transparently phony even for them."
But there's more.
In the Hill newspaper, the Democratic National Committee spokesman Hari Sevugan accused Pawlenty of "naked hypocrisy and blatant right-wing pandering."
Not too unusual -- a DNC spokesman accuses a Republican of something bad -- but Pawlenty's political spokesman didn't like it.
Alex Conant, a former Republican National Committee spokesman now working with Pawlenty, took Sevugan to task.
"On the same day, President Obama is proposing record deficits and higher taxes, I’m surprised you would attack a governor who cut spending for the first time in his state’s history, and balanced his state’s budget every year without raising taxes," Conant wrote in an email to Sevugan. (Another note: Pawlenty's cut in state spending last year was through a massive unallotment of funds and the state Supreme Court will decide whether Pawlenty violated the constitution by cutting as he did.)
Sevugan didn't sit back. He wrote back (and emailed reporters the exchange.) His response starts with "good to hear from you," ends with "all the best" and includes a congratulations but isn't all that kind:
"It’s not surprising that this is the take away from Governor Pawlenty’s op-ed, because as Bartlett points out “[the Governor] rants about the deficit without proposing any spending cuts and insisting on still more tax cuts.”
Of course, that would make Governor Pawlenty like every other Republican -- which judging by Governor Pawlenty’s abandoning of even the pretense of mainstream appeal for the adoption of a hard-right wing ideology -- is exactly what he’s going for. So… you know… congratulations on that? "
Late Monday, Conant said he wasn't planning on writing back.