The first step towards getting America back on track

Tim Pawlenty Contributor
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Some candidates are skipping tonight’s Republican debate in South Carolina because they believe it’s “too soon” to begin the presidential campaign against Barack Obama. I only hope that it’s not too late.

After two and a half years of Barack Obama’s presidency, nearly one in five American workers are consistently unable to find full employment, our national debt continues to skyrocket, and inflating energy and food prices are eating away at families’ budgets.

We can do better. But first we need a new president — which is why tonight’s Republican debate is so important.

The case against President Obama is clear: Last month, the Obama administration announced that in the first quarter of 2011, America’s economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.8 percent. And the future doesn’t look much better: the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office projects that our long-term annual growth will be only 2.4%.

Our economic problems are partly attributable to the mounting national debt. Interest payments on the debt are growing larger and larger, yet President Obama wants to spend even more. He is offering Americans a false choice between more debt and a default. For our economic future, it’s important that we say no to more debt, and make Washington cut spending.

At tonight’s debate, I will also argue that a big reason for our weak economy is President Obama’s federal take-over of health care. Obamacare is one of the most misguided laws in America’s history. Rather than attacking health care costs by empowering patients to be smart consumers, Obamacare drags health care into Washington and creates a one-size-fits-all, centrally planned bureaucracy. No wonder that a year later the Congressional Budget Office is projecting that Obamacare will cost over $1 trillion over the next decade.

The federal government’s overreach is obvious here in South Carolina. Last month, the Obama administration sided with big unions and moved to stop Boeing from creating new jobs in South Carolina. Politics aside, this is terrible economics: Boeing had already invested $2 billion to build a plant that would have provided South Carolina with 1,000 new jobs. Instead of prioritizing jobs and growing the American economy for all hard-working Americans, the Obama administration is now dictating where companies are allowed to create jobs.

Considering President Obama’s many challenges, his re-election may be hard to imagine. But he is an excellent campaigner who is already working hard to build the most expensive campaign in American history. Republicans will only win if we unite behind our conservative values and start the campaign against him now.

It’s time for a leader who will get serious about America’s fiscal health and provide a specific plan to get America back on the right track. At tonight’s debate, we’ll discuss how the U.S. can grow our way into economic recovery by cutting taxes, lowering the burden on small businesses that create jobs, slashing spending, and getting serious about entitlement reform.

As governor of Minnesota, that’s exactly what I did. Minnesota is one of the most liberal states in the country, but I stood up to the Democrats and unions to cut spending, reform entitlements, pass market-based health care and education reforms, and keep a lid on taxes. It wasn’t easy, but after eight years, I was one of only four governors in the country to receive an A grade from the libertarian-leaning Cato institute.

Tonight’s debate is an opportunity for the candidates to discuss their records and how best to defeat President Obama. It’s the first step towards getting America back on track.

Tim Pawlenty is the former governor of Minnesota.