Brian Blanco for The Boston Globe
ORLANDO Former Governor Mitt Romney this morning criticized President Obama’s deficit reduction plan as “deceptive and intellectually dishonest,” but largely strayed from outlining what his own proposals would look like.
He also did not fully embrace the House Republican plan to curb spending in the cherished entitlement programs Medicaid and Medicare, saying at one point that “it’s essential for us to protect Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security as safety nets for the American people.”
Republican presidential candidates have struggled to discuss both the desire to cut spending, and whether those cuts should include the politically popular entitlement programs that make up the largest chunk of spending. Romney said he supported Representative Paul Ryan for bringing the ideas forward.
“I applaud the fact that we are now talking about this issue,” Romney said, in his first public appearance since announcing on Monday that he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. “Chairman Ryan’s plan is not identical, I don’t imagine, to what I’ll be putting forward in a campaign that will potentially go forward. But it’s the right step. We’re on the same page, to put this agenda out there and talk about spending restraint.”
He didn’t go into detail about what a Romney plan would look like, but said he supported the concept of holding harmless those who are currently at least 55 years old.
“For those that are coming along that are a little younger, I think they recognize: We’ve got to change these programs, to make them sustainable,” he said.
Romney, who is in Florida for a series of fundraising events, met with supporters for breakfast and then stopped by an H&R Block tax preparation service to continue hammering away at an economically-focused message. He met briefly with a small business owner, and spent time talking to a tax specialist about the intricacies of the American tax code.
"The worst thing that could happen is if they raise taxes," said Jason Albu, who owns a commercial construction firm with 10 employees about half the size it was four years ago. "Without someone with his business background living it, and working it it's tough to see how the economy keeps growing."
In a brief press conference afterward, Romney left open the possibility that he would release his tax forms for the first time something he never did when running for US senate in 1994, for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, or during his last presidential bid in 2008.
“I haven’t decided that. No particular harm in that, but I don’t think I’ve made that public in the past,” he said. “Stay tuned. If I became the nominee that’s something I would have to consider.”
In what seems to be an effort to dispel notions that Romney is too stiff, he was traveling with his wife, Ann, and was wearing what is becoming a campaign uniform of sorts: black loafers, Gap jeans, and an open-collar shirt (it was the exact outfit he wore two weeks ago in Las Vegas).
He offered commentary on the weather (“It’s a little more temperate here today than it was yesterday in New England”), and tried to console those who were filing their taxes (“Hope you don’t have to pay too much,” he told one). After gamely agreeing to sign a stack of photos for someone, he stopped after about a dozen, joking, “These are all going on eBay and the more I sign, the lower the price gets.”
Romney declined to wade into the controversy over when Florida holds its Republican primary election. The state’s election is currently stated for Jan. 31, which is in violation of national party rules that all states must schedule their elections after March 1, except for Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Nevada.
“The first in the nation are Iowa and New Hampshire,” Romney said. “They play a very vital role in the nomination process, and that order is an order which I think has to be kept in place.”
“But as to when Florida decides to move, that’s really between the Republican National Committee and the leadership here in Florida,” he added. “I really can’t tell you what participation I might have down the road, but I can tell you that I’m staying out of that process.”
He added that “I do know that I will be in Iowa and New Hampshire,” and said “I surely will be campaigning in this state. This is a state which traditionally has a lot to say about who our nominee is going to be. And I expect that to be the case in the future as well.”
Romney has a sizable lead in recent Florida polls, but tried to downplay any notion that he’s the front-runner.
“I just consider myself someone who is happy to be in Florida today,” he said. “I’m working hard. My guess is we’re going to have 10 people who show up on the stage at the first debate or second debate or third debate. People get a chance to see us all. I’m just delighted to be here.”
When asked, though, if he would be on the stage in three weeks in South Carolina, for the first Republican debate, he demurred: “Stay tuned.”
Romney this morning also reiterated his opposition to President Obama’s health care plan, while attempting to defend his own decision to sign a similarly-structured law in Massachusetts.
“What we did in Massachusetts was done for Massachusetts,” he said. “The way the constitution intends states to deal with problems is at the state level. What President Obama did was to usurp the power of the states.”
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.