Mitt Romney said Tuesday that cutting spending slows growth in the economy -- a rhetorical slip more akin to an argument a Democrat might make than a Republican.
Speaking in Shelby Township, MI, the former Massachusetts governor took a question about the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission empaneled by President Obama to address the nation's deficit and debt issues. In his response, he said that addressing taxes and spending issues are essential.
"If you just cut, if all you're thinking about doing is cutting spending, as you cut spending you'll slow down the economy," he said in part of his response. "So you have to, at the same time, create pro-growth tax policies."
That sort of comment was sure to raise the eyebrows of fiscal conservatives in the GOP, who have long preached a message of fiscal restraint as a path to economic growth.
"It's hogwash. It confirms yet again that Romney is not a limited government conservative," said Andy Roth, the vice president for government affairs at the fiscally conservative Club for Growth. "The idea that balancing the budget would not help the economy is crazy. If we balanced the budget tomorrow on spending cuts alone, it would be fantastic for the economy."
Romney is set to unveil a new, more detailed economic plan later this week, especially as he works to shore up primary victories in Arizona and his native Michigan.
But he's offered an insight into his thinking by endorsing a previous fiscal plan (the Cut, Cap and Balance plan, which calls for cuts to spending, a cap on the growth of government spending, and a balanced budget amendment) that doesn't necessarily rely on accompanying tax reforms.
The Obama administration has been particularly clear about its view that cutting spending would strangle off any hope of an economic recovery. Jack Lew, the new White House chief of staff made that point in a Feb. 12 appearance on "Meet the Press."
"I think that there's pretty broad agreement that the time for austerity is not today," Lew said. "We need to be on a path where over the next several years we bring our deficit under control. Right now we have a recovery that's taking root and if we were to put in austerity measures right now, it would take the economy in the wrong way."
Romney's comment, if nothing else, would represent a rhetorical departure from the rest of the Republican Party, which has done battle with the Obama administration over the past year about the best course for economic growth.
"We’re listening to the people who sent us here to cut spending so we can grow our economy," House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) said just less than a year ago, at the height of a fight between Obama and congressional Republicans over funding the government.
***UPDATE*** Romney spokesman Ryan Williams commented on the comments:
The governor’s point was that simply slashing the budget, with no affirmative pro-growth policies, is insufficient to get the economy turned around. However, he believes that budget cuts – especially in the context of President Obama’s unprecedented spending explosion – are a step in the right direction. As he made clear in his economic plan, he believes that spending cuts that reduce the size of government and balance the budget are crucial to economic growth and job creation.