Mitt Romney, attacking President Barack Obama for the second consecutive day for swelling U.S. deficits, said the president has done “almost nothing to fix” the debt amassed over eight years by former President George W. Bush.
Obama as a candidate “was very critical of his predecessor, because the predecessor put together $4 trillion of debt over eight years,” Romney said yesterday in a speech in St. Petersburg, where he began a two-day campaign and fundraising swing through Florida, a hotly contested state. “He said that doing that was unpatriotic -- irresponsible and unpatriotic --and he said he would cut the debt in half if he became president. Instead he doubled it.”
Romney, speaking the day after Bush made an impromptu endorsement of him as he boarded an elevator at an event in Washington, said that while Republicans and Democrats share blame for running up deficits, Obama has made the problem worse.
“It sure is true that you can’t blame one party or the other for all the debts that this country has, because both parties, in my opinion, spent too much and borrowed too much when they were in power,” Romney told about 400 voters at the Mirror Lake Lyceum, a banquet hall in downtown St. Petersburg where he spoke in front of a digital clock displaying the national debt and each taxpayer’s share of it.
“I find it incomprehensible that a president could come to office and call his predecessor’s record irresponsible and unpatriotic, and then do almost nothing to fix it,” he said.
Bush began his first term in 2001 with a budget surplus that was wiped out by the cost of two wars and tax cuts initiated in his presidency, and the yearly government deficit reached $454.8 billion shortly before he left office in January 2009. Under Obama, the deficit rose to $1.42 trillion at the end of his first year, and is projected by the Congressional Budget Office to be $977 billion in fiscal 2013.
At a fundraiser later in the day -- the first of a four-stop, almost $10 million money tour Romney is making at lavish hotels, country clubs and private homes around Florida -- the former Massachusetts governor kept up his criticism of the president and promised his donors he’d run a more business-friendly government if elected.
“What I want to do is not just eliminate programs, but take programs in government that we have and see how many of them we can push back into the private sector, so they can do a better job,” Romney told about 200 attendees of a reception at the Avila Golf and Country Club in Tampa, a gated community surrounded by 8-foot ivy-covered walls and replete with Mediterranean-style stucco mansions featuring Spanish roofs, gilded gates and fountains.
Tenderloin and Sushi
“I know that you get the impression that government doesn’t like you -- I love you,” Romney told attendees munching on beef tenderloin, sushi and crab cakes. “I love what you do. I want to see entrepreneurs and innovators. I want to see more success. My ambition is to see more and more people able to enjoy the extraordinary benefits of America, as you have.”
Former U.S. Ambassador to Italy Mel Sembler, a St. Petersburg-based shopping center developer who helped organize the event -- with tickets available at $2,500, $10,000 and $50,000 -- said it had raised $2.3 million. It included a private lunch for around 50 at the Avila home of real estate developer and investor Dick Corbett.
Romney was attending another reception last night at Miami’s historic Biltmore hotel, followed by a dinner at the Star Island manse of Phillip Frost, chairman of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.
As he steps up fundraising, Romney has begun a full-scale effort this week to use rising U.S. debt as a cudgel against Obama. Campaigning May 15 in Des Moines, Iowa, another politically competitive state, Romney criticized the $831 billion stimulus enacted near the start of Obama’s term and said the president failed to hold down joblessness as he promised to -- criticisms he echoed yesterday.
In Florida, he reiterated his pledge to shutter some federal agencies, return other programs to states and repeal the health-care law enacted in 2010 at Obama’s prodding.
Romney also reprised his analogy of the growing federal debt to a prairie fire visible in the distance. “You don’t say, ‘I’m going to go to bed, because the wind might change,’ you instead look for someone that says, ‘I’m going to take responsibility and fix this -- put it out,’” he said. “It’s high time that we have a president that will stop this spending and borrowing inferno, and I will.”
Romney’s concerns about the debt have been shrugged off by financial markets, where Treasuries are rallying. Yields on the government’s benchmark 10-year notes fell to 1.76 percent at 5 p.m. New York time yesterday from this year’s high of 2.40 percent almost two months ago, according to Bloomberg Bond Trader data. The yield is 9 basis points, or 0.09 percentage point, above the record low and the rates are about a quarter of the 50-year annual average of 6.49 percent.
Romney’s comments blaming both parties for the debt conflict come at a time when U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, an Ohio Republican, is setting the stage for another showdown with Democrats over raising the debt ceiling. A prolonged stalemate last year between congressional Republicans and Obama led to a downgrade of the U.S.’s AAA credit rating by Standard & Poor’s in early August.
Romney also struck a bipartisan tone at the Tampa fundraiser, telling donors he would never pit one group of Americans against another. “It’s gotten way too hot -- way too vicious, frankly, on both sides of the aisle,” he said.
Those remarks came the day after Romney said Obama should take an example from former President Bill Clinton.
“Almost a generation ago, Bill Clinton announced that the era of big government was over,” he said. “President Obama tucked away the Clinton doctrine in his large drawer of discarded ideas, along with transparency and bipartisanship.”
Romney added: “Maybe it was a personal beef with the Clintons.”
Clinton was the last U.S. president to turn a deficit into a surplus. Obama appointed Hillary Clinton, his chief rival in the 2008 Democratic presidential race and the former president’s wife, as his secretary of state.
Following victories in primaries May 15 in Nebraska and Oregon, Romney now has 989 of the 1,144 delegates needed for his party’s nomination, according to the Associated Press. Romney may surpass the needed number before month’s end.