Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney lambasted President Barack Obama today for failing to meet with congressional GOP leaders to try to solve crucial national problems for five months while making time for 34 campaign speeches.
“Leaders don’t do that. Leaders actually spend time meeting with people on the other side of the aisle, understand their needs, understand their concerns, get their input and look for some way to find common ground, not to violate their own principles, or to insist that the opposition violates its principles,” the former Massachusetts governor told host Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.”
Romney, who was making his first Sunday talk show appearance in nearly two years, also stood by his characterization of rival New Gingrich as “zany.”
In a wide-ranging interview taped on Saturday in South Carolina and broadcast on Fox today, Romney discussed the GOP primary battle and defended his views on government spending, healthcare, foreign policy, and the economy.
Defending his labeling of former House Speaker Gingrich “zany” during an interview with The New York Times last week, Romney said: “I wouldn’t think you’d call mirrors in space to light highways at night particularly practical or a lunar colony a practical idea.
Looking poised and relaxed in a sport coat and jeans, Romney said he is prepared for a long and bitter primary battle, if necessary, to secure the GOP nomination.
“I hope we don’t have that but my guess is that, that’s certainly a possibility,” he acknowledged, noting that Republicans have adopted a similar process in allocating delegates to the one that resulted in a protracted Democratic Party primary system leading up to Obama’s 2008 victory over Hillary Clinton.
“We are prepared. If we go on for months and months, we will have the resources to carry a campaign, to each of the states that will decide who gets delegates and who becomes the nominee,” Romney declared.
Romney, who trails Gingrich in the polls with just a little over two weeks until the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, picked up three important endorsements this weekend: from South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley on Friday, the liberal-leaning Des Moines Register on Saturday, and former Kansas Sen. Bob Dole today.
Romney pointed to Gingrich’s dismissal of Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare proposal several months ago as “right-wing social engineering,” and his advocacy of climate change legislation in a meeting with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Wallace pressed Romney for his campaign’s “fine-tuning” of ideas at a time when Republican voters want dramatic change, particularly with respect to taxes and government spending.
“Aren’t you basically right there with Barack Obama? The rich should pay more?” Wallace said.
“No. I’m just saying ‘don’t raise taxes on anyone,’” Romney countered. “I want to make sure that with the precious dollars we have — that we can provide tax relief — that those dollars go to middle-income Americans.”
The middle class has suffered disproportionately under Obama’s economic policies, Romney said. “The people who have been hurt in the Obama economy are not the wealthy. The wealthy are doing just fine. The people who have been hurt are people in the middle class. And so I focused those precious dollars that we have, I focused that on the middle class.”
But Romney acknowledged the results of a recent study that found that families making $75,000 a year are likely to save only about $167 under his plan to cut taxes on capital gains and dividends.
“First of all, $167 is not zero,” he said, insisting that one of the reasons people don’t save their money is they don’t have a financial incentive to do so.
“What I’d do is allow middle-income families to finally be able to save their money tax free — no tax on interest dividends, or capital gains for middle-income families,” he added, saying that the same break would not apply to high-income families that don’t need it.
Romney joked about his own wealth and predicted that Obama will be vulnerable to a powerful counter punch if he tries to campaign as a champion of the middle class.
“He’s extraordinarily vulnerable because, we’ll say ‘how did that work Mr. president? Your four years in office — just how well did those programs work? Did the poverty decline in this country or did it go up? It went up.”
With respect to spending, Romney supports $500 billion in federal spending cuts by 2016, while some of his political opponents are advocating much more drastic measures.
“My plan is a responsible plan, and I have the specifics that show how I will cut $500 billion out of the federal budget and take federal spending from 25 percent of the GDP down to 20 percent of the GDP, which is in my view closer to the long range average and makes sense.”
Romney took issue with GOP challengers such as Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Rep. Ron Paul, who have pledged to eliminate a number of Cabinet-level federal departments, including the Department of Energy and the Department of Education.
“It’s not that I won’t eliminate any. I’m just going to make sure that we study them in some depth to decide which agencies we ultimately combine,” Romney said. “I think sometimes people think if we eliminate an agency we’re not going to keep doing anything it does.”
For example, he said the Department of Education funds the education needs of disabled children.
“I don’t imagine that either of those that talk about getting rid of that department are planning on no longer helping in the education of disabled children,” Romney explained. “So we need to look and say, given the fact that, that function is going to go on, where would it reside?”
While defending the Massachusetts healthcare legislation he signed into law as governor, Romney stopped short of saying that other states should follow a similar model. The Massachusetts plan includes a requirement for residents to purchase coverage, similar to the "individual mandate" that conservatives oppose in the new federal law.
“I’m not going to try and tell other states what to do,” Romney said. “There are various models. They’ll get compared. And if the Massachusetts model works other states will adopt it. If it doesn’t, Massachusetts itself will probably give it up.”
He dismissed critics who portray him as unfeeling and robotic.
“I think people who know me and who interact with me understand that I am an emotional guy, that I have very deep feelings about the country and very great concern about the way it’s being guided at this time by our president,” he said. “As people get to know me better I think they’ll come to a different impression.”
Romney characterized wife Ann’s multiple sclerosis diagnosis as “probably the toughest time in my life” as he and Ann came to tears.
“I said to her, ‘as long as it’s not something fatal, I’m just fine.’ But, look, I’m happy in life as long as I’ve got my soul mate with me.”
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