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Romney: Cut, cap, balance to end ‘emergency’

Calling the debt-ceiling deadline in Washington an “emergency,” Republican Mitt Romney said Thursday he would raise the nation’s debt limit if spending is cut and capped and if a balanced budget amendment is passed.

“The answer for the country is for the president to agree to cut fed spending, to cap fed spending and to put in place a balanced budget amendment,” Romney said in a question and answer session at a meeting Thursday of the Portsmouth Rotary. “For me, that’s the line in the sand. Come on, Mr. President.”

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, has been under pressure to weigh in on the debt-limit negotiations in Washington, but before Thursday had not focused on the issue. He has, however, signed a “Cut, Cap, Balance” pledge endorsed by a number of Republican lawmakers, as the White House and congressional leaders try to negotiate a debt-ceiling increase in time to avoid the prospect of defaulting on Aug. 2.

He said Thursday he would make cuts to discretionary spending. “I’d divide that between those things we have to do and those things we don’t have to do. And those thiings we don’t have to do, I’d cut pretty dramatically,” he said.

As Romney began his remarks, he took at jab at President Obama.

“Did you see I got a big plate of peas? I ate all my peas,” he said, referring to Obama’s comment that it was time to “eat our peas” on the debt. “Now it’s the president’s turn to cut federal spending.

Before Romney arrived for his first of three events here Thursday, his campaign escalated its assault on Obama’s economic policies, releasing a provocative new video featuring an emotional testimonial from a struggling New Hampshire real estate broker.

The film, the latest installment in Romney’s “Obama Isn’t Working” campaign, centers on Packy Campbell, who said his Rochester firm, RSA Realty & Development, had been devastated by the recession. The video cuts between dark shots of an empty conference room and Campbell talking to the camera.

“At this point, it’s just my wife and I left here in the business, but at one point we had about 35 employees,” Campbell, a former Republican state representative and a 2008 McCain supporter, says in the film.

“I paint a lot of houses, a lot of apartments myself,” he adds. “If you ever paint with somebody who doesn’t know what they’re doing, it’s like sooner or later you say, ‘Hey, stop, you’re making a mess, you’re getting paint everywhere.’ And that’s kind of what the government’s doing to the economy right now.”

Romney plans to meet with Campbell and tour his business’s Rochester office Thursday afternoon, following his economic speech to the Portsmouth Rotary Club. Romney will hold a town hall meeting later Thursday afternoon in Derry.

Romney has used similar testimonials in the past to attack Obama’s economic record, trying to place the blame for high unemployment and declining home values squarely on the president.

The latest campaign video opens with footage of Obama at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, saying Democrats “measure progress by how many people can find a job that pays the mortgage. Whether you can put a little extra money away at the end of each month so you can someday watch your child receive her college diploma.”

Then the film flashes the words, “THREE YEARS LATER,” and cuts to Campbell's testimonial. Campbell, a father of five, says he wants to take his children on a summer vacation to Disney World. But he says he can’t.

“Last week was ground zero for me, you know,” he says in the film. “I had to file my own personal bankruptcy. I had to close my business. For me, I look at holding onto my business and not giving up and working through my bankruptcy and continuing to show up every day.”

Thursday marked Romney’s first of three days of campaigning in New Hampshire. On Friday, he will stump in the state’s remote North Country, where he plans to talk about the economy at a roundtable with community leaders in Berlin. Romney will be back on the trail Sunday, attending a NASCAR race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, where he plans to meet with drivers in the infield.

Romney starts the race with a heavy advantage in New Hampshire. He has a vacation home here and has been a regular presence in the state since his 2008 campaign.

Romney is staking his hopes on winning the New Hampshire primary, making almost weekly visits here and largely avoiding trips to Iowa and South Carolina, the other two early states where social conservatives have relatively more sway in the nominating contest.

To coincide with Romney’s visit Thursday, one of his opponents, former Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, announced the endorsement of former state senator Bruce Keough, who had served as Romney’s New Hampshire co-chairman in the 2008 race. Keough will serve on Pawlenty’s national policy committee and on his New Hampshire steering committee. Keough’s defection is hardly a surprise, as he had a public falling out with Romney.

Romney, meanwhile, countered by adding another elected official to his list of New Hampshire backers. State Sen. Jim Rausch officially endorsed Romney on Thursday.

Philip Rucker is a national political correspondent for The Washington Post, where he has reported since 2005.

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