Romney shrugs off Big Bird attacks as a distraction

<i>This post has been updated, as indicated below.</i>

VAN METER, Iowa — Big Bird has gotten a lot of attention from the Obama campaign in recent days — the president’s supporters have shadowed Mitt Romney in Big Bird costumes and his campaign cut a spot criticizing Romney for vowing to end funding for public television (namely “Sesame Street”) instead of focusing on more serious matters like Wall Street reforms.

Big Bird has been part of Romney’s stump speech for more than a year, but it got a burst of attention after Romney uttered his standard line during the debate while talking about his plans to cut federal spending: “I like PBS. I love Big Bird ... but I’m not going to keep on spending money on things, and borrow money from China to pay for it.”

On Tuesday, Romney dismissed the attacks as a distraction. “These are tough times with real serious issues, so you have to scratch your head when the president spends the last week talking about saving Big Bird,” Romney told the crowd who gathered in a windswept field in Iowa to hear him speak Tuesday. “I actually think we need to have a president who talks about saving the American people and saving good jobs and saving our future, and also saving the family farm.”

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Speaking on a stage set with hay bales and bunting that was flanked by two huge tractors, Romney touted his plan to roll back regulations that he said have burdened family farms. He noted that he would permanently eliminate the estate tax — a popular issue here.

“We ought to kill the death tax. You paid for that farm once, you shouldn’t have to pay for it again,” Romney said to cheers. “Now and then a farm is successful enough to save a little money. And when you do save your money, the president has this idea of raising your taxes a lot on your savings, your interest and dividends and capital gains if you’re lucky enough to have them. My view is that if you’re making $200,000 a year and less, you should pay no tax whatsoever on interest, dividends or capital gains.”

The former Massachusetts governor said he would focus more attention on brokering new trade agreements. He leveled the misleading charge that Obama “has signed no new trade agreements with any nation around the world, even as China and other European nations have put together some 40 different agreements.” (Romney did not mention that Obama won congressional approval for trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea — presumably omitting that fact because the negotiations for those deals began during the George W. Bush administration.)

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The Republican presidential candidate said he would devote more time than the president to getting trade promotion authority to negotiate new deals that could open up “new markets for American farms and for American goods of all kinds, because we can compete on a level playing field with anyone in the world.”

The Obama campaign sought to turn Romney’s criticism back on him.

“If anyone should be scratching their heads, it’s the American people when Mitt Romney says that he’ll reduce the deficit and pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans by getting rid of PBS and Big Bird, which make up 1/10,000th of the federal budget,” said campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith. “That’s not a serious deficit reduction plan – it’s a joke.”

[For the Record, 3:00 p.m. PST Oct. 9: This post has been updated to include the Obama campaign’s response.]


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Twitter: @MaeveReston