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Fiscal responsibility at center stage at Values Voter Summit

From msnbc.com's Carrie Dann:

Just six weeks out from the November elections, advocates of smaller government and private-sector solutions to the nation's economic problems appear increasingly giddy at the prospect of a new Republican wave into the halls of Congress.

But for those who place social issues like federal bans on gay marriage and abortion at the top of their political wishlist, it's a little more complicated.

Four GOP leaders - each named as potential 2012 presidential candidates -- used their addresses at Friday's opening day of the socially conservative Family Research Council's Values Voter Summit to weave together economic and social issues, painting fiscal responsibility and smaller government as moral imperatives in line with Christian values.

The timing of the fifth annual meeting of social conservatives could be seen as inopportune for Republican strategists, who hope to capture the lion's share of the independent vote in the midterm elections amidst widespread dissatisfaction with Democrats' handling of the economy. Party leaders like potential presidential candidates Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi and Gov. Mitch Daniels of Indiana have warned that an overt focus on wedge issues like gay marriage and abortion would be unhelpful for the party's cause going into November.

On Friday, Rep. Mike Pence addressed the fissure directly, noting that GOP leaders have advised social conservatives that "the American people are focused on jobs and spending and our movement would do well to stand aside."

Pence said that it is essential that Republicans multi-task and retain their focus on social as well as fiscal issues. "We must focus on our fiscal crisis and support our troops. We must work to create jobs and protect innocent human life," he said.

He warned of the economic costs of government services if "the family continues to collapse" and urged Republican leaders to "stand for life, traditional marriage, and religious liberty without apology."

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee addressed the same divide, characterizing the financial crisis that caused the country's economic woes as "the result of the breakdown of ... character and integrity."

"We must realize there's a direct correlation between the stability of families and the stability of our economy," Huckabee said Friday. "I'm so tired of people telling me we don't want to hear about issues of the family."

Those message appeared to be a direct response to Republican leaders like Barbour and Daniels -- who was excoriated by social conservatives for proposing a "truce" on social issues in favor of a united message on economic growth.

"I’ll put my bonafides up against anybody as a social conservative," Barbour said earlier this month. “But that ain’t going to change anybody’s vote this year because people are concerned about job, the economy, growth and taxes… you are using up valuable time and resources that can be used to talk to people about what they care about.”

Tea Party darling Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., argued that economic and social positions espoused by conservatives are derived both from Christian values and constitutional tenets.

"The pursuit of happiness is about individuals having the right to the fruit of their own labors," she told the crowd. "It's that simple."

The Tea Party's emphasis on individual freedoms, she added, represents "people are reclaiming our inalieable rights given to us by almighty God."

Somewhat in contrast to the other speakers, former and presumed future presidential GOP contender Mitt Romney spoke only briefly of social issues, noting that American values "include the sanctity of life and the preservation of marriage," over 10 minutes into his address to the group.

"But the Obama administration has taken its assault to even more American values," he added, naming government intervention in health care, tax increases, school vouchers, and the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act among them.

Romney also linked America's economic system to the moral imperative to aid those in need. "America's model of innovation, capitalism, and free enterprise has lifted literally billions of the world's poor out of poverty," he said.