WASHINGTON — Republican White House candidate Mitt Romney is offering new ideas on the controversial issues of taxes and immigration, sparking a fresh flashpoint with President Barack Obama before their inaugural debate Wednesday.
In interviews, 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 permission the Obama administration granted to young illegal immigrants to allow them to stay in the country.
The candidates stepped off the campaign trail Tuesday for debate practice and left their running mates to rally voters in swing states. The Romney campaign pounced after Vice President Joe Biden told a North Carolina audience that the middle class has "been buried the last four years."
Romney posted on Twitter that he agrees with Biden. "The middle class has been buried the last 4 years, which is why we need a change in November." The campaign also scheduled a conference call with former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu to criticize Biden's comments.
Biden told about 1,000 people in Charlotte: "This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how can they justify raising taxes on a middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?"
Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith said Romney's campaign was making "another desperate and out-of-context attack."
"As the vice president has been saying all year and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy — and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies," Smith said.
Biden's staff responded to the Romney criticism, also via Twitter, saying Biden "made clear in his remarks today that Romney-Ryan would take us back to the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy."
The dispute followed the Obama campaign's criticism of Romney's remarks on immigration in an interview published Tuesday in the Denver Post.
"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 said. "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."
Obama spent Tuesday preparing for Wednesday's debate at a resort in Henderson, Nev., while Romney was spending most of the day in practice with plans to tour the debate stage set up on the University of Denver campus.