EXETER, N.H. — Mitt Romney said Monday he opposes the compromise to raise the nation's debt ceiling, becoming the second Republican presidential contender to oppose a deal backed by President Barack Obama and congressional leaders in both parties.
The plan, which supporters say is needed to avert a looming fiscal crisis, opens the door to tax increases and defense cuts, the former Massachusetts governor said in a statement.
"President Obama's leadership failure has pushed the economy to the brink at the eleventh hour and 59th minute," Romney said. "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."
The statement represents the most substantive comment to date from Romney, the early front-runner in the Republican presidential field, who has largely avoided weighing in on daily developments in the high-stakes debate. The issue, as the nation's economy in general, is likely to dominate the 2012 contest.
Obama and congressional leaders late Sunday agreed to a plan that would mix a record increase in the government's borrowing cap with the promise of more than $2 trillion in spending cuts. It must still be approved by Congress.
Like Romney, other Republican presidential hopefuls have been reluctant to comment on specific plans as the situation developed on Capitol Hill in recent days. Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty declined to address the issue personally on Monday, but criticized the deal through a spokesman.
"This deal is nothing to celebrate," Alex Conant said. "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."
He stopped short of saying Pawlenty opposes the deal. To date, only Romney and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachman have taken that position.
"Throughout this process the president has failed to lead and failed to provide a plan. The 'deal' he announced spends too much and doesn't cut enough," Bachmann said Sunday night, becoming the first high-profile Republican to denounce the compromise. "This isn't the deal the American people 'preferred' either, Mr. President. Someone has to say no. I will."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, an early proponent of an earlier version of a debt plan backed by House Speaker John Boehner, reacted most positively. He called on Congress to approve the plan, which is expected to become law this week.
"While this framework is not my preferred outcome, it is a positive step toward cutting our nation's crippling debt," Huntsman said, offering a subtle jab at Romney, who had yet to weigh in on the issue. "While some of my opponents ducked the debate entirely, others would have allowed the nation to slide into default and President Obama refused to offer any plan, I have been proud to stand with congressional Republicans working for these needed and historic cuts."
Romney's Monday statement was his first since an appearance in Ohio last week, when he supported the "cut, cap and balance" approach that would add a balanced-budget amendment to the Constitution. The deal struck late Sunday would allow a vote on that measure, but does not require passage. Therefore, a spokesman said Romney could not support it.
When pressed, however, the Romney spokesman declined to say whether Romney would have vetoed the deal if president and thus risked defaulting on the nation's financial obligations.