When President Obama told a Russian leader that he could be "more flexible" after the election -- during what he thought was a private conversation -- Mitt Romney came down like a hammer. He accused his Democratic rival of "pulling his punches with the American people" and hiding his real agenda.
Romney found himself in similar circumstances Monday after he was heard telling donors at a Florida fundraiser that while he planned to slash government programs, he probably would not share those plans with voters before November.
Romney told guests at a Sunday fundraiser that he may eliminate the Department of Housing and Urban Development and that he would likely consolidate the Education Department "or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller."
The remarks, overheard by reporters from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal who were staked out on a sidewalk outside the event, were among the few specifics that Romney has let loose about his plan to cut federal government spending to 20 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, from the current 24 percent, by 2016.
Democrats pounced, holding a "What's Mitt hiding?" conference call during which they argued that Romney's plans would decimate programs that help middle- and lower-class families. The incident, said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., was emblematic of a pattern of secrecy within Romney's campaign -- including his refusal to release multiple years of tax returns, details about his offshore investments or the names of his fundraising bundlers. "Apparently, Mitt Romney only shares the details of his economic plan if you donate $50,000 a head to his campaign," Schumer said.
Democrats said cuts to the Housing and Education departments would restrict access to programs such as Pell grants for college students and federally guaranteed housing loans.
Romney also unveiled a series of tax proposals at the Florida fundraiser. He said, for example, that for high-income earners, he would "probably" eliminate the second home mortgage deduction, as well as deductions for state income and property taxes.
"By virtue of doing that, we'll get the same tax revenue, but we'll have lower rates," Romney said, according to NBC.
The tax proposals that Romney advanced in Florida are not necessarily out of step with his party's goals, but few of his colleagues have been as explicit about the details.