At a private fundraiser in Florida on Sunday, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney offered an unusual glimpse at his policy plans — including the possibility that he might eliminate an agency his father led.
Romney generally avoids such details on the campaign trail, aiming to keep the focus on what President Obama has done rather than what President Romney would do.
In his 1994 Senate race against Ted Kennedy, Romney advocated for ending the Department of Education. Kennedy attacked on the issue, and the experience taught him to avoid specifics.
So his words at the high-dollar event, reported by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, were a rare look at some of the near-certain nominee’s future plans for reducing the size of the federal government and ending tax deductions.
His wife, Ann Romney, also spoke candidly about the flap over stay-at-home moms last week as a campaign boost.
“I’m going to take a lot of departments in Washington, and agencies, and combine them. Some eliminate, but I’m probably not going to lay out just exactly which ones are going to go,” Romney told the audience. His words were heard by reporters on a sidewalk outside the event. “Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later.”
Obama’s campaign jumped on the remarks.
“In order to fund his $5 trillion tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, [Romney] would make deep cuts in programs essential to the middle class like education and housing,” said spokesman Ben LaBolt in a statement to reporters.
Eddie Eitches, president of AFGE Local 476, a union representing about 6,000 HUD employees said the former Massachusetts governor’s comments show he’s out of touch.
“Most everything he says about the housing industry and the crisis makes no sense,” Eitches said Monday morning when told of Romney’s comments. “We do a lot of things. We engage in fair housing, we stop discrimination, our FHA program provides mortgages for the middle class.”
HUD did not immediately return requests for comment.
Romney added that he would would either shrink the Department of Education or consolidate it with another agency. But, he said, “I'm not going to get rid of it entirely” — in part because of the lesson he learned in 1994.
In a recent Fox News interview, Romney that the department “may be combined with other agencies” and that education should be “managed at the state level, not at the federal level.”
Romney also went into some detail about his plans to cut or limit tax deductions for high-income Americans.
In the past, Romney has pledged to close loopholes and deductions for wealthier Americans but been vague about which ones.
On Sunday night, Romney said he would “probably eliminate for high-income people the second-home mortgage deduction” as well as deductions for state income and property taxes.
Romney sources say he was tossing out ideas at the fundraiser, not unveiling policy.
“While President Obama is interested only in offering excuses and blaming others for his failures, Governor Romney is discussing some of the ideas he has to tackle the big issues facing America,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Governor Romney has also laid out a bold set of policy proposals that will grow our economy, cut spending and get our massive debt under control.”
Romney and his wife also talked politics.
The candidate addressed the need to win over Hispanic voters and said there must be a “Republican DREAM Act” — a reference to legislation that would give undocumented immigrant students a path to citizenship.
Ann Romney, speaking of the gap her husband faces with women voters, acknowledged that Democratic strategist Hilary Rosen’s claim that she “never worked a day in her life” was a boon.
“It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical of me as a mother, and that was really a defining moment, and I loved it,” she said.
Ed O’Keefe contributed to this report.