DES MOINES -- With Washington deadlocked, Mitt Romney refused to say yesterday whether Congress should approve a short-term payroll tax cut extension for 160 million workers, the latest pressing policy debate the GOP presidential hopeful has sidestepped. Rival Newt Gingrich, in contrast, castigated Congress for "an absurd dereliction of duty."
"I'm not going to get into the back-and-forth on the congressional sausage-making process," Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, said in Keene, N.H., as the day began. "I hope they're able to sit down and work out a solution that works for the American people. My hope is that the solution includes extension of the payroll tax holiday." But he refused to say how long the extension should be, a key issue in the Washington gridlock.
In Iowa, Gingrich called a two-month extension "insufficient" and scolded the Democrat-controlled Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid and the Obama administration for "lurching from failure to failure."
"It's game-playing," added the former U.S. House speaker, who stopped short of criticizing House Republicans and their leader, Ohio Rep. John Boehner. Their rejection of the Senate's two-month tax-cut extension plan set up the stalemate a little more than a week before taxes are set to go up, Jan. 1, on millions of workers.
Romney, casting himself as an outsider with business expertise necessary to fix Washington and the economy, has spent much of the year declining to weigh in on the hot-button fiscal issues Congress has wrestled over.
Punting on the latest issue yesterday, Romney said: "As to whether it's two months or one year or six months -- these are things they're going to have to work out amongst themselves."
He stayed out of the summertime fight over raising the federal debt ceiling, urging cooperation but stopping short of endorsing the House GOP's one-year extension or the Senate's two-month extension. He eventually opposed the deal.
Gingrich, conversely, hasn't shied away from injecting himself into the latest debates on Capitol Hill, eager to claim he has the leadership qualifications necessary to run Washington and the country -- even when it was politically perilous.
He supported raising the debt ceiling, anathema to many conservatives, and castigated the Medicare portion of the Ryan plan as "right-wing social engineering," a phrase he later apologized for using. On the latest issue, he favors a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut.