WASHINGTON – Mitt Romney told business leaders Wednesday that he would try to put the federal budget on track to be balanced within eight to 10 years, acknowledging it could take longer than two presidential terms to get the job done as he had previously hoped.
Romney told members of the Business Roundtable that "I will, in my first 100 days," take steps that will lead to a $500 billion reduction in the deficit by the end of his first term. Cutting some government programs, sending others back to states and hiring fewer government workers and reducing their salaries will "get us to a balanced budget within eight to ten years," he said.
Previously, Romney had said he hoped to balance the budget by the end of a potential second term as president.
Romney has been reluctant to say which government programs he would cut as president, though he's mentioned areas such as funding for Amtrak trains and money for public broadcasting. He's proposed giving states responsibility for Medicaid funding and cutting costs by limiting how quickly federal spending on those programs would rise relative to inflation.
Still, Romney has acknowledged that cutting the budget too fast could cause a recession or depression, and he says a balanced budget isn't worth that.
"If you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5 percent. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression," Romney said in a recent interview. "So I'm not going to do that, of course."
Romney also used his speech to chief executive officers at major U.S. corporations to assail President Barack Obama's economic record, saying he expects the president to use "cheap" words during a planned economic speech in Cleveland on Thursday.
The speech is scheduled to start just minutes before a planned Romney campaign stop in Cincinnati. It will mark the first time the two men campaign in the same state on the same day, and highlights Ohio's status as a critical battleground state this fall.
"You're going to see him change course when he speaks tomorrow, where he will acknowledge that it isn't going so well," Romney said. "My own view is that he will speak eloquently, but that words are cheap."
Romney said that Obama's record over the last three and half years "is the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs series of policies in modern American history. He is not responsible for whatever improvement we might be seeing. Instead, he's responsible for the fact that it's taken so long to see this recovery."
The Obama campaign countered that Romney's speech was filled with "dishonest claim after dishonest claim" about the president's record on the economy, and that the Republican was trying to deflect attention from his own poor economic record as Massachusetts governor.
The former Massachusetts governor walked through some of his proposals to change the tax code to help businesses and highlighted his plan to curtail regulations. Romney has called for a 25 percent corporate tax rate, in line with what some congressional Republicans have sought. He has proposed lowering the top personal income tax rate to 28 percent from the current 35 percent.
The president has said he would lower the corporate tax rate to 28 percent, and Obama has called for Bush-era tax cuts to end for individuals making more than $200,000, thus increasing their taxes, and for a 30 percent minimum tax on taxpayers who make $1 million or more. The plan has been assailed by Republicans, who contend it will hurt businesses.
Romney spoke to the group for about half an hour. He was clearly comfortable in the room, making offhand references to regulations included in the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation and jokingly pleading with business leaders to bring money they've made overseas back to the U.S.
"If you want to bring your money home pleeeease bring it home," Romney said, stretching out the word "please" as the crowd laughed. "Bring that trillion plus dollars — bring it here!"
Romney's discussion with the group follows a similar appearance by Obama in March. Both candidates allowed reporters to cover their remarks, but ushered the press out before the audience asked questions.