Amid the efforts to spin his '47%' comments, Romney hits the road in a bid to focus his efforts on states where the race is close
In dueling TV spots Sunday, President Obama insinuated that Mitt Romney’s tough talk on the Middle East may mask a call for another war, while the GOP challenger said his economic policy is an “angel.”
“If Gov. Romney is suggesting that we should start another war, he should say so,” Obama said on CBS’ “60 Minutes,” demanding that the former Massachusetts governor, who has branded the President as a weak Commander-in-chief, must specify his position on Iran and Syria.
The popular news program included a separately taped interview with Romney, providing a sound-bite showdown in advance of next month’s debates, which begin on Oct. 3 and promise to give the race a different dynamic.
Romney, who is deadlocked with Obama in the national polls but trails in several swing states, defended his principles for military deployment and hammered away on the central point of his campaign: growing the economy and creating new jobs.
Romney said he would lower the current tax rates by 20% for those at the top and middle of the tax bracket.
“All the rates come down. But unless people think there’s going to be a huge reduction in the taxes they owe, that's really not the case. Because we're also going to limit deductions and exemptions, particularly for people at the high end,” he told CBS. “What I would like to do is to get a tax reduction for middle-income families by eliminating the tax for middle-income families on interest, dividends, and capital gains.”
But when host Scott Pelley asked Romney to explain some of the deductions and exemptions that would be targeted, he said it would have to be worked out with Congress. Then, when Pelley pressed Romney, whose campaign has been criticized for a lack of specifics, the candidate offered an explanation that was nearly heaven-sent.
“The devil’s in the details,” he said. “The angel is in the policy, which is creating more jobs.”
Obama, who took a break from the campaign trail Sunday to prepare for the meeting of the UN General Assembly this week, outlined his foreign policy cred during the CBS interview, which was recorded on Sept. 12, the day after anti-American demonstrators murdered the U.S. Ambassador and three other Americans in Libya.
The President said he has fulfilled his pledge to end the War in Iraq, dismantled Al Qaeda’s leadership and brought Osama bin Laden to justice.
But he faced repeated questions about the slow economic recovery and the persistently high unemployment rate. He noted that when he took office the economy was losing 800,000 jobs per month, and that now the country has regained about half of the 9 million jobs lost by the height of the recession, thanks to the stimulus funding and other measures, like the bailout of the auto industry.
He was asked to respond to Romney’s complaint that the administration is crushing economic freedom under a ton of government regulations, and he answered by noting that he has imposed fewer regulations than George W. Bush did.
“It’s kind of hard to argue that we’ve overregulated,” he continued. “Now, I don't make any apologies for putting in place regulations to make sure banks don’t make reckless bets and then expect taxpayers to bail them out. I don't make any apologies for regulating insurance companies, so that they can't drop a family's coverage, just when somebody in their family needs it most.
“And, you know, the problem that Gov. Romney has is that he seems to only have one note: tax cuts for the wealthy and rolling back regulations as a recipe for success,” Obama followed. “Well, we tried that vigorously between 2001 and 2008, and it didn't work out so well.”
Romney, who was attempting to regain momentum after a painful week capped by controversial recorded comments from a May fund-raiser, defined his threshold for sending troops into combat as a “high hurdle.” He then listed the points that would have to be satisfied before he ordered soldiers off to war.
“Number one, a very substantial American interest at stake. Number two, a clear definition of our mission. Number three, a clear definition of how we'll know when our mission is complete. Number four, providing the resources to make sure that we can carry out that mission effectively, overwhelming resources,” he explained.
“And finally, a clear understanding of what will be left after we leave.”
Romney marked out a plan to cap growth on federal entitlement programs, like Medicaid and food stamps, by giving them over to the states to administer.
“I grow them only at the rate of inflation, or in the case of Medicaid, at inflation plus one percent — that's a lower rate of growth than we've seen over the past several years, a lower rate of growth than has been forecast under federal management,” he said. “And I believe on that basis you’re going to see us save about $100 billion a year.”
When it came to Social Security and Medicare, he said he would not support changes for current retirees, but for future retirees he would allocate benefits based on a recipient’s means.
“Higher income people won’t get as much as lower income people. And by virtue of doing that ... you’re able to save these programs on a permanent basis,” he said.
Despite his struggles since the Republican National Convention, capped by his comments to wealthy donors in Florida that 47% of Americans are government-dependent “victims,” Romney predicted victory.
“I’m going to win this thing,” he boasted.
Romney was in Colorado Sunday night, speaking at a high school in the Denver area, and was scheduled on Monday to begin a three-day bus tour in Ohio that was to be followed by a swing through Virginia.
He hit the road targeting states where the race is competitive — Obama won all three states in 2008 after they went for Bush in the previous election — as his campaign sought to intensify its swing-state focus and spend less time raising money.
But as Romney tried Sunday to change the course of his campaign, the head of the GOP was looking backward, declaring the party’s nominee “had a good week” — and leaving many wondering what a bad week looks like.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus spun like a toy-store top when asked about the impact of Romney’s 47% comments.
“It probably wasn’t the ... best week in the campaign,” Priebus said when first asked about the gaffe on ABC’s “This Week.”
“I think we had a good week last week,” he said later, clinging to the belief that the 47% comments had a positive role in focusing the conversation on entitlement programs and spending. “We were able to frame up the debate last week in the sense of what future do we want.”
President Obama’s campaign adviser, David Axelrod, raised an eyebrow at Priebus’ take on the controversy.
“I don’t know what prism he’s looking though,” he said on ABC. “I don’t think anyone else would define it as a good week. It was an enlightening week.
“The week began with Governor Romney basically slandering 47 percent of America,” he added. “At the end of the week, we saw him manipulating his own tax returns.”
The Romney campaign has admitted that the candidate did not take all the charitable deductions he could have in 2011 because it would have lowered his federal tax rate below 13% — after he said he’d never paid less.