After a week of attacks from left and right alike over his failure to take a position on the latest round of Republican debt ceiling proposals, Mitt Romney has made up his mind on the final deal: he’s against it.
“As president, my plan would have produced a budget that was cut, capped and balanced - not one that opens the door to higher taxes and puts defense cuts on the table,” he said in a statement. “President Obama’s leadership failure has pushed the economy to the brink at the eleventh hour and 59th minute. While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama’s lack of leadership has placed Republican Members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal.”
Mitt Romney hadn’t exactly been silent in the debt ceiling fight up to that point, but he had been cagey. Despite throwing a number of jabs at President Obama, the GOP frontrunner absorbed some criticism for not coming up with a clear position himself.
Officially, Romney is a supporter of the “Cut, Cap, and Balance” plan that includes passage of a balanced budget amendment as a precondition for raising the debt ceiling. But with Republican leaders struggling to forge a more realistic compromise over intense Tea Party protests in recent days, Romney offered only vague hints as to which side he was on. He never took a clear side on Speaker Boehner’s plan, for example, which had to be pulled from the floor and revised at the last minute. Despite Romney’s cautious approach, he frequently criticized President Obama for his “failure of leadership” on the issue.
The easy move for any presidential candidate would be to oppose any compromise out of hand and then claim they could have secured a better deal, which has been the path Romney’s top rivals have mostly chosen thus far. Tim Pawlenty and Michele Bachmann both opposed Boehner’s bill last week and Pawlenty’s spokesman Alex Conant told the Washington Post on Monday that the latest agreement “is nothing to celebrate.”
One exception, however, is Jon Huntsman, who was the only presidential candidate to support Boehner’s plan and now the current deal between Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid. Positioning himself as the only candidate willing to make these kinds of tough real-world decisions, he a threw a few digs at Romney — though not by name — over his indecisiveness.
“While some of my opponents ducked the debate entirely, others would have allowed the nation to slide into default and President Obama refused to offer any plan, I have been proud to stand with congressional Republicans working for these needed and historic cuts,” Huntsman said in a statement on Monday. “A debt crisis like this is a time for leadership, not a time for waiting to see which way the political winds blow.”
On the left, Bill Burton of Priorities USA, repeatedly pushed Romney to get off the fence.
“To date, Mitt Romney has shown no ability to lead or even share where he would stand on the issue that has threatened our nation with default and dominated the news for a month,” he said in a statement this week. “It may be uncomfortable for Romney to pit his Wall Street support against the Tea Party but winning a race to be President of the United States means demonstrating the backbone to do what’s right over what happens to be politically convenient.”
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.