Mitt Romney warned Tuesday that out of control government spending "threatens what it means to be American" and pledged that if elected he'll lead the country out of "this debt and spending inferno."
Speaking to supporters in Des Moines, Iowa, the presumptive Republican nominee called the growing federal deficit "America's nightmare mortgage" and likened it to a "prairie fire" that requires help from all political parties to bring under control.
"When the men and women who settled the Iowa prairie saw a fire in the distance, they didn't look around for someone else to save them or go back to sleep hoping the wind might blow another direction," Romney said. "They knew their survival was up to them. A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation, and every day we fail to act, that fire gets closer to the homes and children we love."
Hitting a bipartisan note in an expected battleground state where swing voters are up for grabs this fall, Romney acknowledged that both Democrats and Republicans bear responsibility for the country's fiscal condition. But he still trashed President Barack Obama's leadership, suggesting he's "fed the fire" and sparked a "spending inferno" in Washington. He said the Obama agenda has taken the country "backwards" and that ignoring the growing deficit is "not just bad economics" but is "immoral."
"President Obama started out with a near trillion-dollar stimulus package—the biggest, most careless one-time expenditure by the federal government in history," Romney said. "And remember this: The stimulus wasn't just wasted—it was borrowed and wasted. We still owe the money, we're still paying interest on it, and it'll be that way long after this presidency ends in January."
Romney vowed that he would "approach debt and spending differently"—arguing that his resume of public and private sector experience would give him a different lens into how to bring down the nation's record deficit. He would make the government "simpler, smaller (and) smarter" by eliminating unnecessary programs and shifting duties to the states and into the private sector, where operations are "more efficient," he said.
Romney argued that Obama's "endless expansion of government" had made the country "less competitive."
"What President Obama is doing is not bold," Romney said. "It's old."
But Romney offered few new details about what he would do as president to tackle the problem—focusing instead on recasting the proposals he's already talked about during the long Republican primary.
The former Massachusetts governor said that, if elected, he would lower federal spending from about 25 percent of the nation's gross domestic product to 20 percent in his first term. And he repeated his vow to repeal Obama's health care reform law and get rid of wasteful government programs—though he offered few specifics about which ones he would cut.
Echoing other presidential candidates before him, Romney said he would take on "entitlement reform"—declaring he would not "insult" voters by suggesting that efforts to shore up Medicare and Social Security should be put off. But he offered no details on what exactly he would do, saying only that he would "speak honestly" and "if elected, do what is right for the people of America."
Romney's speech comes as his Democratic opponents have sought to define him as a "job killer" by suggesting he put profits over people during his tenure at the venture capital firm Bain Capital. Romney's remarks were not just an effort to pivot the attention back toward Obama's handling of the economy but also an attempt to recast and test his own message about how to talk about the issue to voters in a key swing state.
In terms of its economic health, Iowa is faring better than many other states. According to the Des Moines Register, the state's unemployment rate is just 5.2 percent—one of the lowest rates in the country—while Iowa's economy has experienced four straight months of growth. But Romney's campaign is hoping Iowans will be moved not just by their own circumstances but by the state of the nation.
Romney sought to score points not just with independent voters but also with skeptical Republicans in Iowa by casting the "burden" of the deficit as a "moral" issue. It's a theme that had been encouraged by some of Romney's outside advisers and has been embraced in a larger coordinated message this week between the campaign and the Republican National Committee.
"Here in the heartland, you know in your hearts that it's wrong," Romney said about the growing deficit on Tuesday. "We can't spend another four years talking about solving a problem that we know we are making worse every single day."
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