Democrats on Monday seized on comments made by Mitt Romney over the weekend as part of their attack on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's “penchant for secrecy.”
The Democrats took aim at Romney’s comments during a Florida fundraiser on Sunday, when he reportedly discussed combining and cutting “a lot” of departments and agencies in Washington as president. Two of the Cabinet-level agencies Romney named were the Department of Education and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).
“Romney probably hoped these comments would never leave his backyard fundraiser, but they will reverberate in his campaign for quite some time,” said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) on a conference call organized by the Democratic National Committee.
Democrats for weeks have been attacking Romney over the release of his tax returns.
On Monday, they used his more recent comments to double down, with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) slamming the Republican for being “secretive on both sides,” by hiding his personal tax returns as well as details of his proposed policies.
Schumer speculated that cuts to the Education Department would mean raising the price of student loans or cutting aid to students with special needs, while cuts to HUD could mean hitting inner cities and rural area development.
Romney campaign surrogates defended Romney’s comments as a discussion of ideas, not policy.
"He's entitled to, I think, focus on the ideas he's actually proposed," former Missouri Sen. Jim Talent told reporters Monday on a conference call for the Romney campaign.
Romney’s campaign said it is “ironic” that President Obama’s campaign is targeting Romney for “not being forthcoming” in the midst of a scandal over the misuse of funds by the General Services Administration. During a congressional hearing taking place on Monday, one official declined to answer questions about the alleged misuse of funds by the agency.
“No matter how hard President Obama tries to run from his record, Gov. Romney is going to continue talking about his plans to get the country back on the right track,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul.
Romney’s comments about HUD and the Education Department took place during a question-and-answer format with donors at a closed event.
“Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was head of, that might not be around later,” Romney said, according to reports. Of the Education Department, he said: “I will either consolidate with another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm not going to get rid of it entirely.”
The remarks were overheard by reporters from NBC News and The Wall Street Journal who were standing outside the private event.
The context of Romney’s comments was his pledge to reduce the number of bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., and “send a lot of what happens in Washington back to the states,” according to reports on the remarks.
Romney surrogates said that Romney’s critics knock him no matter what ideas he has, from calling his 59-point jobs plan too complicated to calling his tax plan too vague.
Democrats have been pushing for Romney to reveal his personal income tax returns for 2011.
Romney released his 2010 returns and an estimate for 2011 under intense pressure by opponents as well as his GOP rivals. The released information showed he paid an effective tax rate of about 14 percent on his income in 2010, totaling about $3 million. On Friday, Romney’s campaign released his request for an extension for filing his 2011 returns, which his campaign said is routine.
"I think that it's important for any candidate in public office to be as transparent as possible, to let people know who we are, what we stand for,” Obama told Univision on Sunday, adding to the pressure on his likely general-election opponent. “And you know, I think that this is just carrying on a tradition that has existed throughout the modern presidency.”