WASHINGTON --The economic policy director for Jon Huntsman's presidential campaign wants you to know that her boss is a conservative, but she thinks the idea that Ron Paul could cut $1 trillion from the federal budget in one year is "ludicrous."
At a Wednesday panel discussion hosted by the America's Future Foundation, a club of young libertarians and conservatives in Washington who meet regularly over beer to network and debate about politics, Jennifer Pollom, Huntsman's economic director, joined campaign aides for Gary Johnson, Ron Paul and a former Mitt Romney staffer to discuss why their candidate would best represent conservatives as the presidential nominee of the Republican Party. The real fun (by D.C. standards) started when Jack Hunter, a blogger for Paul's presidential campaign, touted his boss's promise to slash $1 trillion from the federal budget.
"Having been on the Budget Committee and having worked in the federal government and in the Senate for quite a while, I think a trillion dollars is kind of ludicrous," said Pollom, who formerly served as the counsel for the Senate Republican Policy Committee. "That's my personal opinion, that is not the stance of Governor Huntsman. We're more concerned about tax policy right now. We're deeply concerned about the deficit and the debt, but we're more concerned about jobs and freezing spending where it is right now."
That didn't play well with the representatives for Johnson and Paul, two of the most libertarian-leaning candidates in the race. (Johnson's plan goes further than Paul's. He has vowed to balance the budget in his first year, which would require cutting even more than $1 trillion.)
"To call that ludicrous is actually a little surprising because this idea that we can year after year continue to spend more money than we're taking in, to me that actually seems to be the pretty ludicrous idea from a fiscally conservative perspective," said panelist Jonathan Bydlak, the finance director for Johnson's campaign.
"I personally think that cutting a trillion dollars in one year off the budget--I use 'ludicrous' sort of loosely--but I don't think it's practical," Pollom said later during the panel. "It may be an excellent aspirational dream but speaking in the real world, I don't know that it's actually practically going to happen."
That's when Derek Khanna, a panelist who worked for Mitt Romney's finance team in 2008, jumped in.
"The idea of one trillion is not ludicrous," Khanna said, which prompted Pollom to put her finger to her head like she was pulling the trigger of a gun. "I think that the idea of saying that being able to balance the budget is 'ludicrous' is kind of disturbing. We're all here saying we support the balanced-budget amendment, but in the end we won't support cutting a trillion dollars. It seems to be a bit disingenuous."
Since the rise of Newt Gingrich in the Republican primary, Huntsman has enjoyed somewhat of a resurgence among conservative establishment types over the past few weeks, including George Will and the editors of National Review magazine, who praised his "solid record" as governor of Utah. Huntsman has been branded as the "moderate" in the race for most of the campaign, a label he seems to be trying to shrug off.
"He's been remarkably consistent since the beginning of the campaign," Pollom said when asked why some high-profile conservatives were suddenly urging conservatives to give Huntsman a second look. "We were in the same box as Rick Santorum for a while--don't get me started on that guy--and as the field has sort of whittled down, I think people have taken a deeper look at Huntsman."
"He's been perceived as very moderate," she added, "but I think he's one of the most conservative candidates in the Republican primary and I think he should appeal very strongly to libertarians."
(Disclosure: The author is a former member of the America's Future Foundation.)
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