Romney breaks silence on debt issue, opposes compromise plan

Stance in accord with Bachmann, Tea Party ranks

“As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped, and balanced,’’ said Republican Mitt Romney. “As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped, and balanced,’’ said Republican Mitt Romney.
By Matt Viser
Globe Staff / August 2, 2011

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WASHINGTON - After weeks of staying quiet on the dominant issue facing the country, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney yesterday said he opposed the 11th-hour compromise to raise the government’s borrowing limits and potentially avert an economy-crushing default on the country’s financial obligations.

“I personally cannot support this deal,’’ the former Massachusetts governor said, following weeks of declining to weigh in on the high-stakes debate and politically vibrant issue.

Romney’s comments put him at odds with his party’s congressional leadership and some of its establishment groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, which urged members yesterday to vote for the plan.

But Romney also put himself in line with the no-compromise, Tea Party elements of the party that have flexed their political muscle during the debate, and aligned him with Representative Michele Bachmann, a GOP presidential hopeful and favorite of the Tea Party movement. So far, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman Jr. is the only GOP contender to endorse the plan.

Romney criticized the terms of the deal because it would establish a 12-member congressional committee to look at ways to cut $1.5 trillion from the deficit, including a tax overhaul.

“As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped, and balanced - not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table,’’ Romney said. “President Obama’s leadership failure has pushed the economy to the brink at the eleventh hour and 59th minute.’’

Romney’s comments also highlight the ways in which the debt deal will continue to dominate the national political discourse as candidates position themselves for the 2012 presidential contest.

The congressional committee called for in the deal to propose $1.5 trillion in cuts is scheduled to make its recommendations in mid-November, with a congressional vote required to come in December, just weeks before voters start selecting their Republican presidential nominee.

President Obama emerges as a chief negotiator of a compromise that no one seems to much like, and one that for weeks put on full display all of the aspects of Washington that the public finds distasteful.

Some economists also suggest that decreasing government spending right now will hamper the economic recovery, which could cause further problems for Obama’s reelection bid.

But the debate has also cast Republicans as heavily divided, with the new class of congressional members backed by the Tea Party movement unwilling to strike a deal with Democrats in a manner that Senator John McCain called “bizarro.’’

There are no signs of the debate diminishing. The terms of the deal ensure an epic clash of party principles in the months to come, especially when the joint congressional committee files its report. Democrats want the committee to address taxes, while Republicans hope to target entitlement cuts.

Romney’s statement came on a day when passage of the deal was still uncertain, as House Speaker John Boehner was meeting with House Republicans to try to drum up support before the vote last evening, 269-161, in favor of the deal.

If the legislation is not approved by the Senate today - allowing the country to borrow additional money - US Treasury officials have said it would be unable to pay all its bills starting tomorrow.

“While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama’s lack of leadership has placed Republican members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal,’’ Romney said.

Romney’s comments put him on the same page as Bachmann, a Minnesota Republican running for president who released a statement 12 hours before Romney, saying, “Someone has to say no. I will.’’

But Huntsman subtly tweaked Romney for not weighing in on a major issue of the day.

“While some of my opponents ducked the debate entirely, others would have allowed the nation to slide into default, and President Obama refused to offer any plan, I have been proud to stand with congressional Republicans working for these needed and historic cuts,’’ Huntsman said. “A debt crisis like this is a time for leadership, not a time for waiting to see which way the political winds blow.’’

Former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty’s spokesman criticized the terms of the deal yesterday, but did not say whether he wanted Congress to vote for or against it.

Romney’s opposition also comes as Rick Perry, who has credibility with the Tea Party movement and a long tenure as governor of Texas, seriously considers entering the presidential race. Perry has not said definitively where he stands on the latest deal, although he supported the more far-reaching “cut, cap, and balance’’ legislation that passed the House last month.

He also downplayed the danger of default last week, saying “this threat that somehow or another the world’s going to come to an end and the threat of we’re not going to be able to pay our bills is a bit of a stretch.’’

The White House yesterday sought to characterize Obama as the one who made tough decisions, and was willing to compromise on a deal that would help prevent the government from defaulting on its obligations. But they were unwilling to predict the long-term implications.

“Anyone who told you they knew what this meant for 2012 is making it up and is probably wrong,’’ said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, yesterday. “I think it reinforced for the American people that compromise is critical to making progress in this country, and that’s the case the president’s been making for a very long time.’’

Donovan Slack of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Matt Viser can be reached at top stories on Twitter

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