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Romney pushes debt-driven message in return to Iowa

Speaking in Iowa, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacks President Obama on his stimulus package, bailouts, Obamacare, and the growing national debt.


DES MOINES -- Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney returned to Iowa on Tuesday, hammering President Obama for feeding a "debt and spending inferno," and warning of the dangers of a "nightmare mortgage" of debt that could swamp generations of Americans if tough decisions can't be made to cut government spending.

"This debt is America's nightmare mortgage. It's adjustable, no-money down, and assigned to our children," Romney said. "And politicians have been trying to hide the truth about this nightmare mortgage for years -- just like liar-loans. This is not just bad economics; it is morally wrong and we must stop it."

Appearing in the Hawkeye state for the first time since the Jan. 3 caucuses -- where Romney was briefly declared the winner before revised results showed Rick Santorum had won -- Romney stood in the very same ballroom in which he held his caucus night party and used stark imagery to warn of a debt and spending crisis he claimed was sweeping across the country like a prairie fire.

"The people of Iowa and America have watched President Obama nearly four years now. Much of that time, with Congress controlled by his own party. And rather than putting out that spending fire, he’s been feeding it. He has spent more and borrowed more," Romney said. "The time has come for a president, a leader, who will lead. I will lead us out of this debt and spending inferno. We will stop borrowing unfathomable sums of money we can’t even imagine from foreign countries we’re never even going to visit. I will work with you to make sure we put out this spending and borrowing fire."

The former Massachusetts governor's speech was directed toward driving a wedge between President Obama and independent voters by labeling the president yet again as an "old liberal," to the left of more centrist "new Democrats" like former President Clinton.

"Even a former McGovern campaign worker like President Clinton was signaling to his own party that Democrats should no longer try to govern by proposing a new program for every problem. President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship," Romney said in prepared remarks. (In his actual speech, Romney inadvertently said "McCain" instead of McGovern.). "It’s enough to make you wonder if maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons. But probably that -– it runs much deeper than that."

"What President Obama is doing is not bold; it's old. As president, I will make the federal government simpler, smaller, smarter," Romney said, summing up his arguments.

But while Romney's speech today touched on entitlement reform and his oft-repeated pledge to cut programs, it glossed over how Romney would pay for his 20 percent across-the-board tax cuts, or his plans to expand military spending without creating even more debt, upon which President Obama's campaign quickly seized.

"While President Obama has put forward a plan to reduce the national debt by more than $4 trillion over the next decade, Mitt Romney refuses to say what spending cuts or tax increases he’d make to cover the cost of giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans," Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said in a statement. "Mitt Romney simply wants to return to the same policies that caused the crisis and weakened the middle class: budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and letting Wall Street write its own rules. Loading the country up with debt while giving tax breaks to the wealthy—America can’t afford Romney Economics.”

The focus on debt and spending -- not job-creating and economic growth more broadly -- was notable here in a state with an unemployment rate of 5.2 percent, nearly three percentage points better than the national average and near full employment. For Romney to return Iowa to the Republican column in November, he'll have to overcome not just an economy that has comparatively thrived in the last four years, but also a significant organizational advantage to the Obama campaign, which boasts eight offices in the state -- including one here in Des Moines in the same location Romney used as his Iowa campaign headquarters during the caucuses.

"The Romney campaign will aggressively compete across Iowa and together with the Republican Party, we will have a bigger presence in Iowa than any previous Republican candidate for President," Romney spokesperson Rick Gorka said in a statement.

Despite the apocalyptic imagery of flames and nightmares, there was some levity in Romney's speech. Employing a metaphor for the inefficiencies and cronyism he sees in Washington DC, Romney, who once said President Obama was employing a "pay phone strategy" in a "smart phone world" described an imaginary scenario in which the federal government was the sole provider of cell phones in America.

"First of all, they'd still be under review, alright, you'd be listening to hearings in Congress on cell phones. When they were finally approved, the contract to make them would go to an Obama donor.  And of course they'd come out looking about the size of a shoe, with a collapsible solar panel attached to power it," Romney joked. "And of course campaign donors would be lining up see who could get appointed to be the App-Czar, alright."