Pawlenty to release budget plan

Likely GOP presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty said Tuesday he plans to unveil his own budget proposal — one that would tackle Social Security reform.

The former Minnesota governor echoed his previous praise of Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) for putting forth his budget proposal, but said that his plan would depart from Ryan's since it will offer a specific plan on Social Security and reform Medicare differently.

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"I'm going to have my own plan that will have some differences than what he had. For example, he didn't address Social Security. I will," he said during an interview with Nevada political journalist Jon Ralston. "You can kick the can down the road and wait for the crisis to come just like we have now in these other programs. But there are reasonable steps ... that I know we can get a majority of the country on board with."

Pawlenty's plan will likely help fuel the debate over the nation's growing debt and deficits, which has taken a front seat as the 2012 presidential campaign begins to heat up. 

Spokesman Alex Conant said that the plan would almost certainly be released sometime after he makes an official announcement.

"When we announced the exploratory committee, the governor said his campaign would include specific policy proposals. I would expect them in due course, likely after the formal announcement," he said.

When it is released, the plan could help direct attention to the likely candidate, who was the first top-tier hopeful to form an exploratory committee but still lags in the polls in part due to a lack of name recognition. It would allow him to present an alternative vision to President Obama, who last week laid out a plan to cut $4 trillion over 12 years.

It could also provide a contrast to Ryan's plan, which all but four House Republicans voted for last week. House GOP leaders were annoyed last week when Pawlenty urged lawmakers to reject the 2011 spending deal that cut $39.9 billion, saying that the cuts appeared to be less than advertised.

Pawlenty delved into some of the specifics of his plan. On Social Security he would gradually raise the retirement age for new entrants to retirement programs and implement means testing for cost-of-living adjustments. Ryan's plan, which cuts $6.2 trillion over 10 years, largely gives Social Security a pass, implementing a "trigger" that would require action once certain thresholds are reached.

The former governor also said that his Medicare proposal would depart in some ways from Ryan's plan to "voucherize" the healthcare plan for seniors. His would focus on "payment reforms" that would direct money to doctors and hospitals for better healthcare outcomes, similar to reforms he passed in Minnesota that incentivized pay for healthcare providers.

"We have to improve it because we have to save it," he said of Medicare.

Pawlenty indicated that he would look at reductions to other non-discretionary spending areas, but said he opposes cutting defense spending.

"I believe in a strong defense, I don't believe we should cut that part of the pie chart," he said.