Romney defends George W. Bush ... sort of

Former President George W. Bush addresses the audience at a $1 million fundraiser for Romney, then the Republican Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate, in 2002 in Boston, Massachusetts. Romney ultimately won the race and served as governor until 2007.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images
In this 2002 file photo, then-President George W. Bush speaks at a fundraiser for Mitt Romney, who was running to be the governor of Massachusetts. Romney won that race and served as the Bay state's executive from 2003-2007.
TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

(CBS News) ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney harshly criticized President Obama on Wednesday for calling "his predecessor" - former President George W. Bush - "irresponsible and unpatriotic" for adding $4 trillion to the debt and then failing to lower it once elected. But Romney failed to mention the unpopular Texas Republican by name even though Bush endorsed him a day earlier.

With a large debt clock on the wall behind him, Romney kept his focus on the nation's deficit for a second consecutive day while speaking to a crowd made up primarily of senior citizens at the Mirror Lake Lyceum. "It's high time that we have a president who will stop this spending and borrowing inferno and I will. I'll get the job done," Romney said.

He again compared the debt to a prairie fire sweeping across the country, although the line seemed to resonant less in coastal Florida than it did a day earlier in Iowa.

Romney also attacked Obama for comments he made while campaigning in 2008 about the amount of debt added during Bush's two terms. Obama said then, "The way Bush has done it over the last eight years is to take out a credit card from the Bank of China in the name of our children, driving up our national debt from $5 trillion for the first 42 presidents - Number 43 added $4 trillion by his lonesome ... $30,000 for every man, woman and child. That's irresponsible. It's unpatriotic."

Four years later, Romney is lodging a very similar attack at Obama, claiming that the debt added since he took office totals over $5 trillion. "I find it incomprehensible that a president could come to office and call his predecessor's record irresponsible and unpatriotic and then do almost nothing to fix it," Romney said. "And instead, every year to add more and more and more spending."

Romney pointed to the debt clock, which displayed the nation's total national debt rising beyond $15 trillion.

"It is not at all what he promised," he said. "This presidency has been a disappointment and the people who have been hurt by this disappointment are the American people and that's why we're going to get him out of office come November."

Another person who may have been disappointed Wednesday is Bush - over Romney declining to mention him by name. Bush endorsed Romney on Tuesday, in an off-the-cuff way, when he answered a reporter's shouted question about the presidential contest at an event in Washington. "I'm for Romney," Bush said as his elevator doors slid shut.

While Romney touted his endorsements from Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, and his brother, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, he neither discusses Bush nor appears with him in public, which may have something to do with Bush's continued unpopularity with the public. A CNN/ORC poll in late 2011 showed him with a 53 percent unfavorable rating.

The Obama campaign reacted to Romney's speech Wednesday with the following statement: "In a wholesale whitewashing of his own record in Massachusetts, (Romney) refuses to mention how he raised state spending by 6.5 percent each year and increased Massachusetts long-term debt by 16 percent in just four years, leaving it with the largest per-capita debt of any state in the nation. And Mitt Romney ignores that when President Obama took office, he was handed the largest deficit relative to the economy since the end of World War II, largely due to failed economic policies that Mitt Romney would bring back."

"While President Obama has put forward a plan to reduce the deficit by more than $4 trillion (over a decade) by making responsible spending cuts and asking every American to pay their share, Mitt Romney refuses to say what spending cuts or tax increases he'd make to cover the cost of giving $5 trillion in tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans."

The Treasury Department reported earlier this month that the government in April took in in more money than it spent, the first April in the black in almost four years.

Still, the United States is on track for the fourth straight fiscal year with a budget deficit larger than $1 trillion.

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    Sarah Huisenga is covering the Mitt Romney campaign for CBS News and National Journal.