The day after his clean sweep of three Republican primaries, Mitt Romney attacked President Obama on Wednesday for a “hide-and-seek campaign” that disguises his real intentions on the budget, foreign policy, energy and other policy touchstones.
Appearing before a group of journalists that had hosted the president on Tuesday, Mr. Romney began by recalling Mr. Obama’s recent comment to Russia’s leader, in a moment picked up by a live microphone, that his flexibility on foreign policy would increase after the election.
“That incident calls his candor into serious question,” Mr. Romney said, and he asked on what other issues Mr. Obama would disclose his plans only after re-election.
It was the latest indication that the president and the candidate most likely to be the Republican nominee — as Mr. Romney is seen, at least among Wednesday’s audience of journalists — are fully engaged in the high-stakes enterprise of defining each other in the most unfavorable terms, seven months before the November election.
That was Mr. Obama’s objective on Tuesday, when, as Mr. Romney strengthened his standing as the Republican front-runner, the president lashed out at him for supporting a Republican budget plan that Mr. Obama labeled “social Darwinism.” And Mr. Romney wasted no time in striking back, accusing the president of handing off to the Democratic leadership in Congress an economic program that he characterized as “a grab bag of pet projects,” and of lacking the courage to take on entitlement spending.
The courage of his convictions, Mr. Romney said, was what he shared with the Republican plan’s leading sponsor, Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who campaigned at his side in Wisconsin, the tightest of the three contests he won on Tuesday.
Although Mr. Romney’s own proposals may differ in some detail from what the House Republicans just approved, he has made his support for the Ryan plan clear, to the delight of those in the Obama camp who are glad to campaign against it.
“Unlike President Obama, I have the courage to stand behind my plan and the leadership to enact it,” Mr. Romney asserted.
He said there was no better example of the president’s vacillation than on the question of federal spending, especially on Medicare and other entitlement programs. “He has failed to enact or even propose a serious plan to solve the entitlement crisis,” he said.
Mr. Romney spoke before a gathering of newspaper editors and reporters in Washington, where Mr. Obama the previous day castigated him for supporting the budget plan, approved last week by House Republicans without a single Democratic vote.
Taking a few questions, he said Mr. Obama’s remarks on Tuesday were full of “distortions and inaccuracies” too numerous to list. And as he did in his prepared remarks, which he followed scrupulously, he defended the House spending plan, saying Mr. Obama had relied on “straw men” to criticize its spending cuts.
Asked about the tit-for-tat speeches, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said that Mr. Obama’s remarks on Tuesday had been full of specifics — “a comprehensive, detailed, dare I say wonky exposition of his views of what our budget priorities ought to be and his views on why the Republican budget put forward by Chairman Ryan is not the right solution.”
All but attaching Mr. Romney’s name to it, Mr. Carney said that “the Ryan Republican budget would become the law of the land if someone else were to occupy the Oval Office next year and if Republicans continue to effectively control Congress.”
The ideas Mr. Ryan and Mr. Romney have campaigned for are not “the idea of a rump faction of the Republican Party,” he said. “This is what now is mainstream Republican thinking.”
The Senate’s majority Democrats do not intend to pass any budget, relying instead on the outlines of last summer’s debt deal between Congress and the White House. If the Republican budget plan were ever to become law, Congressional committees would have to cut spending over the next 10 years by a total of $5.3 trillion below what Mr. Obama seeks.
It also would order House committees to draft cuts in projected deficits worth $261 billion in order to head off automatic cuts to the military that would otherwise take place next year in the absence of a broad deficit reduction plan, which Congress was unable to agree upon last year.
Politically, the Ryan approach would require making some unpopular choices in an election year. The Republican argument, which Mr. Romney echoes, is that the alternative is an irresponsible bleeding of the nation’s already debt-laden balance sheet.
The Ryan plan seeks to rein in debt largely through changes in entitlement and discretionary spending rather than through increases in tax rates, which it would reduce while eliminating many tax loopholes.
According to the Congressional Budget Office, under this plan revenues would rise to 19 percent of G.D.P. in 2030 from 15.5 percent in 2011, while spending on Medicare would rise to 4.25 percent from 3.25 percent, and Social Security to 6 percent from 4.75 percent. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program would drop to 1.25 percent from 2 percent over the two decades.
But the cuts in other spending programs would be much steeper — to less than 6 percent of G.D.P. from more than 12 percent, and even less another 20 years into the future.