Romney: 'A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across our nation'

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The sniping over Romney's record at Bain — and the speech Romney plans to give in Iowa today — are all part of the larger effort to define the Republican candidate, who — despite a bruising and vicious Republican primary — remains enigmatic to many voters. Democrats believe that by undermining Romney's economic credentials now, they have an opportunity to define his candidacy and neutralize his greatest advantage over the president early on.

“This is about the values Romney lived by,” said Obama deputy campaign manager Stephanie Cutter on a conference call with reporters. “This is about whether Romney’s business experience qualifies him to make the right decisions as president.”

But the Romney team, based on excerpts of this planned Iowa speech released Tuesday morning, is looking to portray its candidate as a crusader against government debt.

In the speech, Romney employs a brush fire as an extended metaphor for what he sees as a looming financial crisis.

"We can’t spend another four years talking about solving a problem that we only make worse every day. When the men and women who settled the Iowa prairie saw a fire in the distance, they didn’t look around for someone else to save them or go back to sleep hoping the wind might blow another direction. They knew their fate was in their hands and so it is today," Romney plans to say.

"A prairie fire of debt is sweeping across Iowa and our nation, and every day we fail to act we feed that fire with our own lack of resolve. This is not a Democratic or Republican problem. That fire could care less if you have a donkey or an elephant in your front lawn, it’s still coming for your house."

Romney goes on to pin economic struggles to the Obama administration directly, blasting the president's stimulus and healthcare initiatives as historically wasteful.

“President Obama started his days in office with the trillion-dollar stimulus package — the biggest, most careless one-time expenditure by the federal government in history. And remember this: the stimulus wasn’t just wasted — it was borrowed and wasted. We still owe the money, we’re still paying interest on it, and it’ll be that way long after this presidency ends in January," Romney's speech reads.

Later in the speech, Romney says his experience will provide an alternative approach to debt and spending.

"My time spent building businesses and leading state government taught me that we need to hold every department and agency to a simple test: If something can be done better and more efficiently outside the federal government, then that’s where it belongs. Wherever we have the option of returning functions back to the states, to local governments, or, better still, to the private sector, that’s what we will do. We will make the federal government simpler, smaller, smarter — and, by the way, more in keeping with the vision of the Framers of our Constitution," Romney will say.

Romney's remarks are planned for 3 p.m. EST.