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Huntsman backpedals slightly on the deficit, spending in ABC interview

Potential Republican 2012 presidential candidate Jon Huntsman appeared in an interview with George Stephanopoulos of ABC’s “Good Morning America” on Thursday to discuss his views on economic and budget issues, among other topics. Despite the former Utah governor’s insistence, his positions have changed on spending and the deficit since a 2009 interview.

Stephanopoulos asked Huntsman to expand on his perspective of domestic spending policy, specifically inquiring whether he regrets calling the president’s 2009 stimulus package insufficient.

**George Stephanopoulos: **Let’s talk some domestic issues. A lot of Republicans — again, Republican primary voters — are going to wonder about your decision as governor of Utah to take the stimulus funds, President Obama’s stimulus funds. And when you were asked about it, you suggested that one of the problems with the stimulus is that it wasn’t big enough. Is that what you still believe?

Jon Huntsman: If you read on in that interview, you will find that I was specifically referring to corporate tax cuts, payroll tax deductions, and focusing the stimulus in infrastructure projects that would improve our economic future.

**George Stephanopoulos:**But you also aligned yourself with Mark Zandi, who said the stimulus … had to be about a trillion dollars.

Jon Huntsman: That was his take. And my take was, let’s stimulate business. Let’s look at tax cuts, let’s look at payroll tax deductions. If you read on in the interview, that’s exactly what I said. But more than that, George, a specific focus as opposed to just giving dollars to states. And let’s face it, every governor took it.

The interview in question is this Politico Q&A session with the then-Utah Gov. Huntsman during a National Governors Association meeting:

Q: How long before you see the stimulus money kick in?

A: I’m not sure it’s the stimulus money that will necessarily allow the economy to recover…It will help to fortify our budgets, frankly, to ensure that there isn’t as much backsliding in the areas of education and healthcare, for example. But economic recovery must be earned. And it will be earned by entrepreneurs and it will be earned by small businesses.

Q: You said the stimulus wasn’t large enough. In addition to the tax cuts that you mentioned, are there other measures you would have liked to see included in the bill?

A: Well, the size of about a trillion dollars was floated by Mark Zandi, who’s a very respected economist. I tend to believe what he is saying about the size of the package, which didn’t necessarily hit the mark in terms of size.

Q: How realistic is President Obama’s expected pledge to cut the deficit in half?

A: You can slice it any number of ways. The question becomes, how deleterious are these budget-balancing measures to our long-term competitiveness? And I think we have to be very sensitive to our need to compete, moving forward, and a lot of that is tied to tax policy.

At the end of the day, capital is a coward. It’s going to flee from wherever it perceives risk to be present in the marketplace…In a day and age of global competition and instantaneous financial flows, you have to be highly sensitive to the way in which tax policy impacts your overall competitiveness as a country. That’s the only flag of caution I think we ought to be waving at this point.

Without too much extrapolation, Huntsman’s views on spending in 2009 put an emphasis on funding social welfare provisions and borrowing money for tax relief and public projects that would counter the effects of the recession. He seems to imply drastic balancing measures can have a negative impact on overall economic demand. The language he uses in the 2009 interview appear less equivocal on the issue of deficit spending than the statements he provided during Thursday’s programming.

Huntsman, most recently the U.S. ambassador to China, backpedals more noticeably from his 2009 position by throwing his support behind the Paul Ryan budget plan, telling Stephanopoulos he would have voted for the Wisconsin representative’s spending reduction bill that, among other things, would privatize Medicare and increase military spending. Support for the congressman’s extreme cuts runs counter to Huntsman’s 2009 wish to provide states stopgap funds. Moreover, in light of his being in favor of pulling out of Libya and Afghanistan, backing a budget plan that allocates more dollars to defense spending is counterintuitive.

Huntsman refused to change his qualified support for civil unions, nor would he change his position on immigration, telling the GM host, “And I don’t believe in penalizing the younger generation coming across our borders who have no say whatsoever over their journey and destiny. They want to integrate into the American system. If they’re willing what needs to do be done and work hard, then I think if we’re giving them an in-house tuition break, that integrates them into the system, and makes them part of ultimately contributing to our country.”

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