Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney proposed deep cuts in federal subsidies for public broadcasting and the arts and limiting government spending to only “essential” programs in a debt-reduction plan he said would pull the nation from a fiscal precipice.
The former Massachusetts governor said the program he outlined today would whittle down the rate of federal spending and slash $500 billion from the budget by 2016, the end of his first term if he is elected next year.
“The consequences of a weak America, a declining America, an America so deep in debt that we can’t pay our way — those consequences are severe,” Romney said at the Exeter Town Hall in New Hampshire, the state that conducts the nation’s first primary on Jan. 10. “We have a moral responsibility not to spend more than we take in.”
Romney, previewing the proposal he is scheduled to roll out in more detail Friday in Washington, called for an array of cuts in programs and the elimination of others, including an end to federal funding for Amtrak and the elimination of foreign aid to countries, such as China, “that can take care of themselves” as well as those “that don’t line up with our interests.”
In an Op-Ed posted shortly before his speech on the website of USA Today, Romney outlined more reductions, including ending federal funding for family planning programs “benefiting abortion groups like Planned Parenthood.”
He told a room packed with 300 New Hampshire voters and Philips Exeter Academy students he would also turn over Medicaid, the federal health-care program for the poor, to the states. And Romney proposed slashing federal employment by 10 percent through attrition and tying government workers’ compensation and benefits to those received by employees in the private sector.
All told, Romney said, his plan would reduce federal spending as a share of the gross domestic product from last year’s level of 24.3 percent to 20 percent or below.
The more formal address on spending and debt will be delivered Friday at an event sponsored by Americans for Prosperity, a tea party-aligned fiscally conservative group.
Romney is highlighting his fiscal policy proposals as the second-time presidential candidate — leading or near the top of polls on the Republican race nationally and in early-voting New Hampshire — is being assailed by party rivals for a too-timid approach to repairing the economy.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who last week rolled out his plan to create an optional 20 percent flat tax and slash spending to 18 percent of gross domestic product, is portraying Romney as an apologist for the status quo.
Perry’s communications director, Ray Sullivan, said in a statement that Romney was offering “more of the same,” while Perry’s plan “takes a wrecking ball to the Washington establishment.”
Romney and his allies are working to present him as the antidote to what they say are President Barack Obama’s thin credentials for fixing the economy.
“We got sweet talk last time, and we ended up with an amateur in the White House that had never cut a dime out of a bill,” said former New Hampshire Governor John Sununu, who exhorted voters following Romney’s speech to recruit supporters for his White House bid. “We need someone who has gone through the private sector and who has governed and knows how to make policy with people watching.”
Romney’s spending-reduction target, similar to the one that Republican House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin proposed this year, would lead to steep cuts in popular programs.
Federal spending is projected to rise to 25.3 percent of GDP this year, according to an estimate released Feb. 14 by the White House Office and Management and Budget. Fiscal policy groups said earlier this year that similar proposals by congressional Republicans could mean substantial cuts in such programs as Medicare and Medicaid.
“It’s not going to be popular in every corner for us to rein in the excesses of the government,” Romney said. “People have vested interests in getting as much money as they can from taxpayers.”
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