Romney rejection of debt deal stands out in Republican presidential field

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) opposes the debt deal struck by President Obama and congressional leaders over the weekend — a stance that stands out from most of the GOP presidential field.

Romney emerged after weeks of silence to oppose the compromise measure that would authorize a two-tranche increase in the nation’s borrowing authority in exchange for up to $2.4 trillion in deficit reduction.

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“While I appreciate the extraordinarily difficult situation President Obama’s lack of leadership has placed Republican members of Congress in, I personally cannot support this deal,” Romney said in a statement Monday.

But with the exception of Reps. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Ron Paul (R-Texas), who oppose raising the debt limit under any circumstances, and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman (R), who backs the agreement, the rest of the Republican presidential contenders expressed no clear view toward the compromise measure.

In statements that, if nothing else, suggested a negative tone toward the Obama-backed package, neither former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) nor former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) would express explicit opposition to the new plan.

“This deal is nothing to celebrate,” said Alex Conant, a spokesman for Pawlenty. “Only in Washington would the political class think it’s a victory when the government narrowly avoids default, agrees to go further into debt and does little to reform a spending system that cannot be sustained by our children and grandchildren.”

“Avoiding default is not a solution to America’s jobs and debt crisis,” Gingrich said.

Long-shot candidate Thaddeus McCotter, a GOP representative from Michigan, said he had “no comment” on the plan after the Republican Conference meeting, and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) had made no public comment by press time.

The uncertain response from the Republican field comes with a sense of irony, given the criticism Romney, the campaign’s putative front-runner, had been forced to endure because of his refusal to take a firm stance in the debt debate.

Pawlenty’s and Huntsman’s campaigns in particular had joined Democrats in pointedly questioning why Romney had been so quiet. Privately, Romney’s aides worried that weighing in at every stage, on every twist and turn of the debate, would be productive for neither their campaign nor Republican negotiators.

That muddle is fueled in part by the divided response among the Republican base toward the proposal. While establishment-minded lawmakers and business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce backed the deal, Tea Party lawmakers and like-minded groups such as the conservative Club for Growth emerged in opposition to the plan, laying bare the fissures in the Republican Party over spending issues heading into next year’s elections.

That puts candidates on a smaller stage, like Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a well-regarded conservative who’s running for Senate, in a potentially difficult position.

But Flake brushed off the implications of his vote on Monday, saying that while he wasn’t sure yet how he would vote, he wasn’t concerned it would pose any difficulties for his Senate campaign.

And House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) brushed off opposition by his party’s presidential candidates to the debt-ceiling deal.

“I’ve got a big job to do here,” Boehner said Monday at a press conference. “Those running for president have their own aspirations.”