NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Casting himself as America's CEO, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Tuesday outlined a sweeping economic plan that would reduce regulations and taxes on companies, sanction China over its currency practices and weaken the clout of labor unions.
Trying to hold off surging rival Rick Perry, Romney traveled to economically suffering Nevada and stood inside a giant truck warehouse to deliver his multi-point plan designed to position him as the GOP contender with the most comprehensive approach to fixing the economy.
"This is a business plan for America," Romney told supporters as he promoted his plan as one designed to modernize an economy he says is still oriented toward earlier decades — and held up General Electric CEO Jack Welch and former Apple CEO Steve Jobs as "real deal" leaders in the U.S. economy.
It's a version of the economic pitch Romney has been making throughout the campaign so far — but it's now been sharpened to highlight how his private-sector record contrasts with Perry, the Texas governor, who has held elected office for more than two decades. In his speech Tuesday, Romney barely mentioned his own four years as governor of Massachusetts.
Perry's campaign sharply criticized Romney immediately after the address. "As governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney failed to create a pro-jobs environment," Perry spokesman Mark Miner said in a statement. When Romney was governor, Massachusetts ranked 47th out of 50 in job creation.
Romney's plan calls for reducing or eliminating several taxes, extracting more U.S. oil, coal and natural gas, expanding trade pacts and slashing federal spending. His campaign distributed the 160-page booklet, and Romney explained it in an at-times rambling speech delivered without prepared text or a teleprompter.
Democrats called Romney's plan wrong-headed and doomed to fail. Taxes already are near historic lows, they noted, and many employers say weak consumer demand is more troubling than taxes or regulation.
Romney portrayed his plan as a bold vision to lower the nation's unemployment rate, now at 9.1 percent.
"America should be a job machine: jobs being created all the time, people looking for employees to join their enterprises," he said.
Many of his proposals are not new, although they could cause fierce debates in Congress if pursued. He would seek a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution, cut non-security discretionary spending by 5 percent, eliminate the estate tax and undo the 2010 health care overhaul championed by President Barack Obama.
The jobs plan is Romney's first major policy statement since he announced his candidacy in June. It came two days ahead of Obama's scheduled speech on jobs before a joint session of Congress.
Romney's campaign predicted that his overall plan would lead to 4 percent annual growth in the U.S. economy, and create 11.5 million new jobs over four years. The campaign did not provide details of how it reached those projections, which are certain to be challenged by Democrats, independent groups and perhaps his GOP rivals.
Winning congressional approval for such proposals could prove difficult even if Republicans keep their House majority in the 2012 elections and take over the Senate. Senate Democrats would likely retain filibuster powers.
First, of course, Romney must win the Republican nomination, which eluded him in 2008. Many party insiders saw him as this year's early front-runner until Perry jumped in and shot to the top of polls.
Texas has gained many thousands of jobs during Perry's decade as governor, pressuring Romney and the other contenders to convince GOP voters they can do a better job of attacking unemployment.
Romney called for lowering the corporate income tax to 25 percent, from the current 35 percent. That rate is high compared to other advanced economies, but a host of tax breaks allow many U.S. companies to pay little or no corporate tax. Romney said a lower rate would encourage companies to keep more operations within the United States.
He would eliminate taxes on interest, dividends and capital gains for people making less than $200,000 a year. A campaign spokeswoman declined to offer estimates of the proposal's budget impact "because they are still being refined and finalized."
Most capital gains taxes are paid by the richest Americans, and Democrats said Romney's plan would have scant effect.
Romney said he would keep the Bush-era income tax cuts unchanged. Obama wants the cuts, which were set to expire this year, to disappear for the wealthiest taxpayers.
Romney did not go as far as GOP presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, who has called for lower tax rates for all Americans and the elimination of most tax breaks and loopholes.
Romney said he would consider wider changes to the tax code over time. He also said a number of foreign and domestic proposals would lead to job growth, the issue dominating the presidential election.
Saying Obama has greatly expanded federal regulations, he proposed steps to ensure that new regulations won't cost employers more money. If a new set of federal rules raises costs for businesses, his plan would require other regulations to be eliminated as an offset.
He said he would sanction China for deliberately keeping its currency low, which makes Chinese-made products easier to sell abroad. The Obama administration has complained about China's currency policy but has not made it a priority in the two nations' relations.
Romney also accused China of stealing intellectual property, a common complaint among U.S. creators of technology, entertainment media and other products. He proposed a "Reagan Economic Zone," which would be a coalition of nations that respect intellectual property rights and seek expanded trade with each other. And he vowed to push stalled trade pacts with Colombia, Panama and South Korea.
Focusing on labor unions, which overwhelmingly back Democrats in elections, Romney said he would seek rules making it easier to defeat unionization drives and to prevent mandatory withholding of union dues from workers.
Associated Press writer Charles Babington in Washington contributed to this report.
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