Romney, Ryan hit Obama over jobs report, but shy from policy specifics

The GOP presidential ticket on Sunday hammered away at President Obama on the economy, hoping to capitalize on last week’s disappointing jobs report, but struggled with continuing demands to share more details on their own proposals.

Mitt Romney, in a lengthy NBC News “Meet the Press” interview and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) were peppered with questions about how they will reach their jobs and deficit goals but offered few specifics.

While Ryan has offered two detailed budgets, the Ryan plans balance the budget twenty years later than what Mitt Romney has vowed to do. And neither man has specified exactly which tax loopholes they would fill in order to pay for a 20 percent tax cut for all marginal rates and a 10 percent reduction in the corporate tax rate.

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That remained the case after Sunday.

Romney and Ryan’s appearances came after the government released dismal economic data on Friday that shifted the focus back onto the president's economic record. In August, the economy added only 96,000 jobs. 

“It is a jobless recovery, if it's a recovery at all,” said Romney on NBC of the latest employment data. “It really doesn't look like a recovery. “If this president's re-elected you're going to see chronic high unemployment continue for another four years or longer.” 

Romney, though, was pressed by Meet the Press host David Gregory for specifics on his economic proposals.

“Governor, where are the specifics of how you get to this math?” asked Gregory. “Isn't that an issue?”

“Well, the specifics are these, which is those principles I described, are the heart of my policy,” Romney replied.

He would not name loophole closures or reveal how exactly he would bring spending below 20 percent of the economy. 

But Romney sought to dispel Democratic claims that his tax overhaul would primarily benefit the wealthy.

The Obama campaign argues that to pay for his tax reform after first extending the George W. Bush-era rates on the wealthy, Romney would have to increase the burden on the middle class by eliminating popular deductions such as those for home mortgage interest, employer-sponsored health insurance and charitable giving. 

“I've indicated as well that contrary to what the Democrats are saying I'm not going to increase the tax burden on middle income families. It would absolutely be wrong to do that,” Romney said. 

The Obama campaign, which has charged Romney with not offering enough policy specifics, seized on the answers.

“On 'Meet the Press' today, Mitt Romney again refused to identify one tax loophole or deduction that he’d close to pay for his $5 trillion in new tax cuts favoring the wealthiest Americans. As his advisers have said, he knows it would be politically 'suicidal' to do so,” spokeswoman Lis Smith said, in a statement. 

Romney’s campaign for its part has pointed to his 59-point jobs plan unveiled this year and the candidate’s pledge to create 12 million new jobs if elected as a sign of his policy depth.

Ryan, in an appearance on ABC’s “This Week,” said there was no “secret plan” on taxes and that Romney would publically work with lawmakers to identify specific changes to the tax code if elected. 

“The best way to do this is to show the framework, show the outlines of these plans, and then to work with Congress to do this,” Ryan said. “That’s how you get things done.”

“We want to have this debate with Congress.  And we want to do this with the consent of the elected representatives of the people and figure out what loopholes should stay or go and who should or should not get them,” he added.

Ryan pledged that any changes to the tax code would be negotiated in public “What we don't want to do is cut some backroom deal like ‘ObamaCare,’ and then hatch it to the country,” he said.

Romney and Ryan’s efforts to focus on the weak economy were also hampered by what Democrats said was a rift between the two candidates over the August 2011 debt-ceiling deal.

Romney criticized Obama and House Republicans alike for agreeing to the Budget Control Act which set sequestration in motion, calling the decision 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,” he said on NBC.

But Ryan on Sunday defended his vote for the debt deal. The “goal was never that those defense cuts actually occur,” he said.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said the candidates had “tripped over their answer,” and contradicted each other.

“The fact remains that we could prevent the automatic defense cuts if Congressional Republicans drop their refusal to ask for another dime from millionaires and billionaires,” she said, targeting the GOP on taxes.

Meghashyam Mali contributed