By Ed Tibbetts, Quad-City Times
Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney clearly separated himself from two of his Iowa rivals Wednesday, saying that Newt Gingrich’s tax plan would explode the deficit and spending cuts envisioned by Ron Paul would drive the country into a deep recession.
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was spending his second day in the Quad-City region, campaigning in Muscatine and Clinton, as well as a stopoff for an hourlong meeting with the Quad-City Times editorial board in Davenport.
In the editorial board session, Romney argued for a decline in government spending but, without mentioning Paul by name, said a $1 trillion cut in a single year would do damage to the economy.
Paul, who along with Romney is leading in the polls Iowa, has proposed cutting $1 trillion out of the $3.7 trillion federal budget in his first year. And in television advertising, he’s accused the others of timidity for not being as aggressive.
Romney took a different view.
“If you knock $1 trillion out of a $15 trillion economy, you’ve now shrunk the economy dramatically. Even more than it shrunk in the ’08 recession,” he said. “America would be in a deep recession again.”
Spending cuts are a primary focus for Iowa caucus-goers, and each of the Republican presidential hopefuls have blasted federal spending under President Barack Obama.
Romney has proposed reducing outlays to its post-World War II average of about 20 percent of gross domestic product.
It was the second time Wednesday that Romney alluded to Paul.
In Muscatine, he said “one of the people running for president thinks it’s OK for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. I don’t,” he said.
In the editorial board session, Romney also criticized Gingrich’s tax plan. Gingrich has proposed a complete elimination of the tax on capital gains and dividends. Romney has proposed getting rid of it but only for people making less than $200,000 a year.
Romney said Gingrich’s plan would add $1 trillion to the federal deficit in the first year, citing an estimate from the Tax Policy Center, a think tank.
“I’m not going to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit,” he said, adding Gingrich’s plan also lets billionaires such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to get by without paying any federal taxes.
Gingrich has disputed the Tax Policy Center study. He told the Quad-City Times editorial board about a week ago that his plan would have such a dynamic impact on the economy that the cost to the U.S. Treasury would be more on the order of $200 billion a year.
He also said he could find savings to make up for that.
Romney said even with a dynamic impact, the additional debt would amount to $800 billion.
Romney said his plans didn’t amount to tinkering around the edges, but he did draw a line.
“I just don’t think that those ideas, while they’re bold, are good ideas,” he told the editorial board.
Romney is in the midst of a three-day bus tour through Iowa, and he kicked it off in Muscatine on Wednesday, with planned stops in Clinton and North Liberty.
So far, he’s attracted large crowds.
In Muscatine, a line of people stood in line to get to see him at Elly’s Tea and Coffee. Before making his remarks, Romney, with a crush of media jammed up nearly against him, shook hands and posed for pictures, answering some questions but mostly exchanging pleasantries with people.
“Is this grandpop or pop,” he asked of a little girl with an older man.
“Look at these guys out here, getting squished,” he said at another point.
Eastern Iowa is a base of support for Romney, particularly Scott, Muscatine and Clinton counties, where he finished first four years ago even as he lost to Mike Huckabee statewide.
Ron Haskell of Atalissa said he is going to support Romney at the caucuses, and he rejected suggestions that he’s too moderate, a line Gingrich has been pushing lately. Haskell said he thinks Romney moved a liberal state toward the center.
With a Republican Congress, he said, Romney would push government to the right.
“He is going to do the right thing every time,” Haskell said.
Elaine Reed of Muscatine said she, too, plans to support Romney.
“I just think he’s the most qualified candidate,” she said.
Romney, who is deploying a battalion of surrogates to speak in his behalf in the week leading up to the Jan. 3 precinct caucuses, was introduced in by U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, an Illinois Republican, who praised the former governor for navigating Massachusetts’ political climate. He added the party needed someone for the general election who isn’t prone to gaffes.