By Holly Ramer and Philip Elliott, Associated Press
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) — Republicans considering a White House run in 2012 assailed President Barack Obama's deficit-reduction proposal and cast him as a tax-raising liberal who's failing to pull the nation back from the brink of financial catastrophe.
The criticism looks a lot like the opening salvo in a race certain to be shaped by spending issues.
Most of the contenders have indicated their preference for a spending blueprint offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, chairman of the House Budget Committee. While praising Ryan, R-Wis., they have stopped short of endorsing his plan completely.
"That's a very good start. It does some things that need to be done," Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said Thursday at a breakfast with Manchester Mayor Ted Gatsas.
During his opening trip to the first-in-the-nation primary state, Barbour said he found much to like in Ryan's plan to cut defense spending and in his Medicare proposal.
Ryan was "direct with the American people," Barbour said. Obama, who outlined a competing plan Wednesday that includes tax increases, says entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid "are not sustainable, but he's never proposed doing anything about it until — maybe — he did it yesterday," Barbour told reporters at a gun shop in Hooksett. "Ryan, on the other hand, took the bulls by the horns."
Barbour said he was disappointed that "the line in the sand" that Obama wants to draw "is a trillion-dollar tax increase because I think economic growth has to come first."
His fellow GOP contenders hammered the president on the same issue in appearances Thursday in New Hampshire and in written statements after what amounted to Obama's first major re-election speech.
At New England College in Henniker, former Sen. Rick Santorum called Obama's approach tax-heavy and policy-light.
"The idea of taxing our way to prosperity is simply not proven at any time in our history of this country," Santorum told students.