DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Likely presidential candidate Mitt Romney hedged Friday on his support for a House Republican budget outline that seeks to reduce spending by cutting federal programs such as Medicare.
Romney was asked by a reporter during a stop in a Des Moines suburb whether he would sign the Republican plan if he were president. But the former Massachusetts governor declined to answer.
"That's the kind of speculation that is getting the cart ahead of the horse," he said.
Romney emphasized that he supports the goals of the Republican plan, offered by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, but that he would offer his own proposal for reducing spending and cutting the federal deficit.
One of the most controversial aspects of Ryan's plan has been its call to replace Medicare's fee-for-service system with government vouchers.
"If we don't make any changes, then Medicare won't be there for the next generation and that's unacceptable to me. So I appreciate what Paul Ryan has done," Romney told reporters in Ankeny after visiting an agricultural software company. "I'm going to have my own plan."
Earlier, Republican presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty came under pressure after he initially declined to fully support the Ryan plan. He later said he would sign the plan into law if he were president.
Romney sought the Republican nomination in 2008 and is expected to announce his 2012 candidacy next week in New Hampshire.
He was scheduled to participate in several events Friday in Iowa, with the highlight being a speech to a business group in Des Moines. The trip marked the first time he's visited the lead-off caucus state since launching a presidential exploratory effort.
If he enters the race as expected, Romney aides said he will have a leaner campaign for the Iowa caucuses than the expensive juggernaut he assembled here in his 2008 race.
His stops in Iowa were in keeping with what aides said will be a campaign more focused on a national economic message, and less focused on appealing specifically to Republican activists in Iowa.
Romney has rethought his Iowa plans after his second-place finish in the caucuses in 2008. He spent millions in the state only to be beaten late in the campaign by former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, a stricter social conservative who appealed to the Christians who form the backbone of the Iowa GOP caucus base.
Romney has said he plans to campaign in Iowa and field a staff ahead of the 2012 caucuses.
He unveiled a team of key Iowa backers Thursday led by a former state party chairman, and planned to meet in eastern Iowa Friday with supporters from counties where he won in 2008. Romney also spoke briefly with Iowa's Gov. Terry Branstad, a Republican, Monday, another sign he is not forsaking the leadoff state, as some observers suggested he would.
But aides would not say whether Romney planned to compete in the Iowa Republican Party's presidential straw poll, a traditionally big pre-caucus event planned for mid-August. Romney spent heavily to organize en route to winning the straw poll in August 2007.
Some influential GOP activists have said Romney should reconsider his less aggressive Iowa approach since several Republicans with stronger social conservative profiles are expected to run, leaving him an opening with pro-business conservatives.
Besides Romney, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said he would announce his plans to enter the race soon, and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann signaled she likely would do the same next month in Waterloo, Iowa, where she was born. At the same time, former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is launching an East Coast bus tour starting Sunday, a move that's fueling speculation that she, too, is preparing for a run.
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