BOSTON (AP) — Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty told a tax day rally on Boston Common on Friday that the nation should toss out the federal tax code and start over to reflect the needs of a much smaller central government.
Pawlenty, who is weighing a run for the Republican nomination for president, also criticized the federal health care law signed by President Barack Obama, but declined to fault former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who is also running for the GOP nomination.
A Massachusetts law signed by Romney in 2006 provided a blueprint for the national law. Romney said he also opposes the federal law. Pawlenty called Romney “a friend” and said “at the end of this we’re all going to have to be a team and be united.”
“I don’t get in the business of criticizing Gov. Romney over this issue,” said Pawlenty, who called the federal law unconstitutional and “a bad piece of legislation, one of the worst in the modern history of the country.”
Romney has said it should be left to individual states and not the federal government to decide whether to expand access to health care.
About 500 people attended the rally, which was sponsored the Greater Boston Tea Party.
Pawlenty said that not only should the federal tax code be thrown out, but Congress should refuse to raise the country’s debt limit and instead pass a balanced budget amendment.
“I think the message for us should just be this: the government’s too damn big,” Pawlenty said.
Greater Boston Tea Party President Christen Varley praised Pawlenty for putting his state “on a course towards economic success.”
“We felt that by bringing a Republican presidential contender to Massachusetts, we could offer voters an opportunity to hear a different point of view on the role of government than we usually hear in this state,” Varley said.
R.T. Rybak, the Democratic mayor of Minneapolis, said Pawlenty left the state in tough financial shape. Under Pawlenty, the state stopped creating jobs faster than the rest of the country, Rybak said.
He also said that despite his anti-tax rhetoric, Pawlenty agreed to a 75-cent-per-pack “health impact fee” on cigarettes to end a partial government shut-down one year.
“His fiscal record was a disaster for Minnesota. It would be a disaster for the country,” Rybak said.
Two top Massachusetts Republicans didn’t attend the event, including Romney, who this week announced he was forming an exploratory committee to weigh a run for the GOP nomination.
Republican U.S. Sen. Scott Brown also didn’t attend. Brown received support from tea party activists during last year’s special election for the seat left vacant by the death of longtime Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Brown has since fallen out of favor with many tea party activists who fault him for taking more moderate stances on key issues, including his support last year for the Senate financial overhaul bill.
Brown has also split with conservatives in his party on a range of issues, from rejecting calls to strip federal funding for Planned Parenthood to supporting the repeal of the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” ban on gays serving openly.
Political observers say Brown’s more moderate stance is a political necessity if he wants to be reelected in Massachusetts, one of the nation’s more liberal states.
Brown also skipped the tea-party rally last year. Former GOP Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin got top billing during that rally, attended by roughly 5,000 people.
Although Friday’s rally was more sparsely attended, there were sharp differences between both sides.
Tea party supporters waved signs that said “It is Not a Tax Problem. It is a Spending Problem” and “Welcome to Obama’s Food Stamp Nation,” while critics chanted “Health care yes, tea party no” and held signs that said “Hands Off Our Unions, Healthcare.”
The rally harkens back to the historical tea party protests in 1773, when American colonists upset about British taxation without government representation threw British tea into the harbor in protest — just a mile from the site of Friday’s rally.
The modern tea party movement helped elect dozens of new members to the Congress last year, united in large part by a fiscal conservatism.
Although the rally is taking place on April 15, federal taxes are not due until April 18, because the District of Columbia will observe Emancipation Day on Friday.
In Massachusetts, state returns aren’t due until the following day, April 19, because of the Monday Patriot’s Day holiday.
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