Updated 9:02 PM ET
Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney weighed in Wednesday on the congressional-White House payroll-tax standoff, with Romney saying he'd show more hands-on leadership than President Obama and Gingrich blasting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid for refusing to work with House Republicans.
"I would have met with the leaders; I would have brought them to the White House," Romney told reporters in Keene, N.H. "And if they didn't want to come to the White House, I would have gone to their offices; I would have sat down. Leaders are involved in the process, as opposed to standing back and just criticizing the people who are in the process."
But Romney, seeking to keep a safe distance from the fray in Washington, declined to comment on the hard-line approach of House Speaker John Boehner or Massachusetts GOP Sen. Scott Brown's assertion that the speaker and other House Republicans have been irresponsible in refusing to accept the bill that the Senate passed 89-10.
"I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth on the congressional sausage-making process," Romney said.
Gingrich, meanwhile, faulted Reid for letting Senate Democrats leave town this week and not engaging with House Republicans on the matter.
"Reid is deliberately game-playing ... again, we're talking about total dereliction of duty," he said in Des Moines, Iowa. "The Senate passes what it wants and it leaves town -- doesn't wait around, it doesn't act responsibly. I just think if you're a normal American, you're looking at this stuff, you just say, 'What a total failure of leadership.' "
Gingrich declined to second-guess his former lieutenant Boehner, saying, "I have no idea how I would try to handle it if I was in John Boehner's position because he's got a Senate majority leader who is totally destructive, and he's got a president who just thinks he's the campaigner-in-chief [and] who has no interest in trying to solve America's problems."
When National Journal/CBS News asked Texas Gov. Rick Perry his views on the payroll tax skirmish on Wednesday, Perry walked away without answering the question.
On another subject, Gingrich also rebuked Romney for an attack ad in Iowa financed by Restore Our Future, a pro-Romney "super PAC." The ad accuses Gingrich of supporting taxpayer funding of some abortions as well as other claims. The Washington Post's Fact Checker website gave the ad four "Pinocchios," its lowest rating.
"Four Pinocchios, even by the standards of normal politics, is a fairly dishonest ad," Gingrich said. "It would be nice if Governor Romney was honest about his former staff and his supporters running negative ads. And he could ... ask them to take them off the air. This is his campaign."
Later in the day, Gingrich also responded to Romney's comment earlier in the day that the former speaker needs to learn how to deal with the pressures of a campaign. "This is politics and if you can't stand the heat in this little kitchen, wait until the Obama hell's kitchen turns up the heat," Romney said on Fox and Friends, responding to Gingrich's criticisms of the Romney campaign's negative ads.
Gingrich challenged Romney to a face-to-face debate. "If he wants to test the heat, I'll meet him anywhere in Iowa next week, one on one, 90 minutes, no moderator, just the time keeper," Gingrich said. "He wants to try out the kitchen, I'll be glad to debate him anywhere. We'll bring his ads and he can defend them.
Rebecca Kaplan and Lindsey Boerma contributed