After days of refusing to take a position on the high-stakes budget talks, Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney came out on Monday against a last-minute deal to avoid a potentially economy-rattling government default.
Romney's move allows him to continue to draw a stark contrast between his approach and President Obama's economic stewardship, and it puts it him in line with the most conservative wing of his party. Without any public appearances on his schedule this week, Romney can avoid hard questions about the potential consquences of the plan's failure.
"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," Romney 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.”
The former Massachusetts governor and Wall Street powerhouse now stands in the same corner as his surging grassroots rival, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., who announced she was canceling a campaign event in Iowa on Monday to vote against the deal. She has consistently opposed any agreement to increase the debt limit, dismissing projections that the government would be unable to pay all of its bills and wreak havoc on the economy.
"The 'deal' he announced spends too much and doesn't cut enough,'' Bachmann said in a statement. "Someone has to say no. I will."
The only major Republican candidate who has stood up in favor of the precarious agreement between President Obama and top congressional Republicans is former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, the administration's former ambassador to China. He said the proposal to cut $2.1 trillion over the next 10 years “provides the only avenue to avoid default.’’
He added, "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. A debt crisis like this is a time for leadership, not a time for waiting to see which way the political winds blow.''
The no-new-taxes deal deprives Republicans of an obvious line of attack against Obama but allows them to continue to hammer him over a lack of leadership. Elected to change the way Wahsington works, Obama was at the center of the one of the most dysfunctional debates in decades.
The ugly standoff also ensures that the Republican contenders will continue to try to position themselves as political outsiders running against Washington. It could be the perfect opening for the secession-threatening, Washington-reviling Texas Gov. Rick Perry to enter the race this month.
In a sign of how radioactive the debt talks have become, even Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich -- a former House Speaker -- declined to take a firm stand on whether Congress should vote yes or no on the plan. That allows him to avoid any association with a deal likely to have enormous political fallout.
“Avoiding default is not a solution to America’s jobs and debt crisis,'' Gingrich said. "This agreement only sets the stage for an enormous amount of work going forward – well beyond the next two years - on how to create jobs, reduce government spending, return to balanced budgets and pay off our debt.''
This article appears in the August 1, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.