WASHINGTON — Republican White House candidate Mitt Romney is offering new ideas on the controversial issues of taxes and immigration, sparking a new flashpoint with President Barack Obama before their inaugural debate Wednesday.
The GOP nominee suggested an option of limiting deductions to pay for his across-the-board income tax cut and revealed that he would honor temporary work permits for young illegal immigrants granted by the Obama administration.
"The people who have received the special visa that the president has put in place, which is a two-year visa, should expect that the visa would continue to be valid. I'm not going to take something that they've purchased," Romney told The Denver Post in an interview published Tuesday. "Before those visas have expired we will have the full immigration reform plan that I've proposed."
Obama announced in June that he would prevent deportation for some children brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents. Applicants must not have a serious criminal record and must meet other requirements, such as graduating from high school or serving in the U.S. military.
The program closely tracked with the DREAM Act, a bill that failed to pass Congress that would have provided a path to legal status for many young illegal immigrants. Romney said during the Republican presidential primary campaign that he would veto DREAM Act legislation.
Obama campaign spokesman Gabriela Domenzain said Romney's statement to the Denver Post "raises more questions than it answers," including whether he would repeal Obama's policy or deport those who have received a deferment after two years.
"We know he called the DREAM Act a 'handout' and that he promised to veto it," Domenzain said. "Nothing he has said since contradicts this and we should continue to take him at his word."
The Denver Post interview comes as Romney and Obama are fighting a heated battle for Colorado, whose significant Hispanic population could determine which candidate receives the state's nine electoral votes.
Throughout the Republican primary, Romney took an aggressive tack on immigration, saying in debates that he approved of "self-deportation," where undocumented workers would choose to leave the country on their own because they were unable to find work. He assailed rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, for allowing illegal immigrants to attend Texas state colleges and universities at reduced, in-state tuition rates. Romney always has said he supports a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who serve in the military.
After Romney secured the nomination, he indicated he would review potential legislation from Florida Sen. Marco Rubio that would allow some young illegal immigrants a way to stay in the country.
In another interview Monday with Denver television station KDVR, Romney laid out a possible scenario for paying for proposal to cut all income tax rates by 20 percent. He's previously said the cuts would be funded by closing loopholes and deductions, but that the specifics would have to be worked out with Congress.
"As an option you could say everybody's going to get up to a $17,000 deduction; and you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others — your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way," Romney said. "And higher income people might have a lower number."
The new details came as Romney and Obama went into seclusion Tuesday to practice for the debate, underscoring the high stakes for both in their first televised encounter. Obama is at a resort in Henderson, Nev., while Romney was spending most of the day at a hotel on the outskirts of Denver, where the debate is being held. He planned at some point Tuesday to tour the debate stage that was set up on the University of Denver campus.
With just five weeks until Election Day, they dispatched their wives and running mates to court voters in key states, such as the critical battleground of Ohio, where early voting began Tuesday. Balloting already is under way in other states.
In Pennsylvania, a judge blocked a requirement that all voters show photo ID in this year's election, a victory for Democrats who argued it would prevent the elderly and minorities from voting. But voters will have to show identification in some other states as part of a wave of new policies approved primarily by Republican-controlled legislatures.
GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan was visiting three Iowa towns during a bus tour Tuesday, while Vice President Joe Biden scheduled two events in North Carolina, another swing state. First lady Michelle Obama was campaigning in Ohio and Seattle, and Ann Romney was attending a rally in Littleton, outside Denver.
In Clinton, Iowa, a voter asked Ryan about video of Romney saying 47 percent of Americans don't pay income taxes and are dependent on government. The voter wanted to know if there is a way to collect something from everyone.
"I have an idea: Let's help them get jobs so they can get good paychecks and then they're good taxpayers," Ryan said. He did not mention that military members serving in war zones and retired seniors are among the millions of people who do not owe federal income taxes.
Ryan acknowledged, however, Romney's comments about those people muddled the political landscape.
"Sometimes the point doesn't get made the right way," he said.
Ryan also tried to invoke optimism as his ticket trails in the polls. He predicted the debates would spark a shift.
"Now we're entering what we call the debate and choice phase of this campaign," Ryan told The Jay Weber Show on Milwaukee's 1130 WISN talk radio. "People are going to focus on this. The debates are going to give us a chance to highlight our differences, and we're entering the phase where we get to frame the choice of this election."
Associated Press writers Philip Elliott in Clinton, Iowa, and Kasie Hunt in Denver contributed to this report.