Romney: GOP involvement in debt deal was "mistake"

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 01: Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at Union Terminal on September 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mitt Romney will hold campaign events in Ohio and Florida. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Justin Sullivan
Republican presidential candidate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney speaks during a campaign rally at Union Terminal on September 1, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio.
Justin Sullivan
(CBS News) In comments that contrast with those of his running mate, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told NBC News' "Meet the Press" in an interview aired Sunday that Republican involvement in the 2011 bipartisan deal to extend the nation's debt ceiling was "a big mistake," even though it averted a government default and possible chaos in the world's financial markets.

Romney's vice presidential choice, Paul Ryan, also differentiated himself further from Romney by refusing to say that he would reject a hypothetical debt reduction deal - composed of a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases - which Romney (and other GOP candidates) rejected during a presidential primary debate last year.

"You know, it depends on the quality of the agreement," Ryan said on ABC's "This Week." "It depends on the quality of the policy. Our negotiators in the 'supercommittee' offered higher revenues through tax reform. John Boehner did as well. . . . What really matters to me is not ratios but what matters is the quality of the policy."

During the interview with NBC's David Gregory, Romney said President Obama is to blame for provisional defense cuts that were part of the deal with Congress. When Gregory noted that Republican Congressional leaders agreed to the so-called sequestration provision, Romney responded:

"And that's a big mistake. I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it. The president was responsible for coming out with specific changes they'd make to the defense budget. ... The American people need to understand how it is that our defense is going to be so badly cut."

Romney's comments are at odds with those of his running mate, who wrote in a National Review opinion column last year that the deal "takes an important step in the right direction."

"We still have a long way to go toward getting the key drivers of our debt - especially federal health-care spending - under control," Ryan wrote. "But considering that House Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation."

A little over a year ago, as part of a deal to extend the nation's borrowing limit and avoid default, the Obama White House and Congressional Republicans agreed to $109 billion in automatic spending cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, including $55 billion from defense programs, if a Congressional "supercommittee" failed to find adequate savings elsewhere to meet budget targets. The supercommittee admitted failure in November.

In another portion of the interview on "Meet the Press," Romney complimented former President Bill Clinton's speech at the Democratic National Convention, which concluded Thursday, and said he thinks Clinton upstaged Mr. Obama.

"He did stand out in contrast with the other speakers," Romney says of Clinton's Wednesday night stem-winder. "I think he really did elevate the Democrat convention in a lot of ways. And frankly, the contrast may not have been as attractive as Barack Obama might have preferred if he were choosing who'd go before him and who'd go after."

Clinton spoke a day before President Obama delivered his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

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