Evan Vucci, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Originally planning to focus on education, Mitt Romney instead reignited the debate over his business credentials on Wednesday, welcoming scrutiny of the private equity firm he co-founded and declaring he's a far more qualified steward of the economy than President Barack Obama.
At the same time, Romney said that if he wins the White House, he wants Congress to delay addressing looming tax increases and spending cuts until after he takes office.
"Right now we have an economy in trouble, and someone who spent their career in the economy is more suited to help fix the economy than someone who spent his life in politics and as a community organizer," Romney told Time magazine.
The comments — the first since Obama personally questioned Romney's experience at Bain Capital — largely overshadowed a Washington speech that offered the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's first extensive plans for the nation's education system. Romney, who has been reluctant to stray far from the economic issues at the core of the presidential campaign, charged that Millions of American children are getting a "third-world education" under Obama.
"And America's minority children suffer the most," Romney declared. "This is the civil-rights issue of our era. And it's the great challenge of our time."
He continued: "President Obama has made his choice, and I have made mine. As president, I will be a champion of real education reform in America."
Five months before Election Day, Romney is working to add meat to his prescriptions for some of the nation's most pressing problems. He has offered few details so far on foreign policy, health care and education, following a playbook that heaps criticism on the Democratic president's policies but offers only a vague road map for what he would do differently.
Romney told Time magazine that if he wins the presidency, he wants Congress to wait until he takes office to deal with the so-called fiscal "cliff" on Jan. 1, 2013, when two rounds of tax cuts expire and automatic spending cuts to defense and domestic programs kick in. In the interview, Romney suggested that he was open to a temporary measure to keep the economy going until he had a chance to shape a "permanent" solution.
Romney also said that heading off the looming tax hikes and spending cuts could be done in a piecemeal way. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has suggested he wants a fiscal "grand bargain" to address the country's ills.
Government analysts say that current fiscal policies, if unchanged, would likely cause a recession.
The former Massachusetts governor defended his work in the private sector in the interview, but he initially struggled to identify specific skills or policies he learned at Bain that would help him create an environment in which jobs would be created. He later identified trade, labor and energy policies.
"I happen to believe that having been in the private sector for 25 years gives me a perspective on how jobs are created — that someone who's never spent a day in the private sector, like President Obama, simply doesn't understand," he said.
Asked whether he'd welcome a focus and debate on his career at Bain, Romney said: "Well, of course. I'd like to also focus on his record."
Romney's intended focus on Wednesday, however, was education. He outlined a voucher-like plan to let low-income and disabled students use federal money to attend public schools, public charter schools and, in some cases, private schools. Federal funds could also be used for tutoring or digital courses.
The proposal is line with GOP reforms aimed at giving students more educational choices. But it's unclear how schools in areas that depend on the federal funding would fare.
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