* Comments come at a private fundraiser over weekend
* Candidate goes much further in describing his plans
* Says would shrink but not eliminate Education Dept
By Patricia Zengerle
WASHINGTON, April 16 Mitt Romney was throwing
out ideas, not outlining policy when he was overhead telling
supporters that he wanted to limit tax deductions for some
mortgages and eliminate the federal Department of Housing and
Urban Development, his campaign said on Monday.
The comments by the likely Republican presidential nominee
came during a private fundraiser over the weekend with donors at
an estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
During his remarks, which were overheard by reporters from
NBC News and The Wall Street Journal, Romney said he would
combine or eliminate many government departments, agencies and
tax credits to help offset his proposed income tax cuts.
While not especially specific, Romney's comments did go much
further in describing his plans than what he has outlined in
public campaign appearances.
Romney told the donors that he would eliminate or limit the
mortgage-interest tax deduction for second homes for those with
high incomes, and probably would do the same for the state
income-tax and state property-tax deductions now taken by
millions of Americans, the Journal reported.
Romney wants to slash all U.S. tax rates by 20 percent.
During a conference call on Monday, Romney aides said his
comments at the fundraiser did not amount to changes in his
proposals, but that he was responding to questions and throwing
"He's entitled to, I think, focus on the ideas he's actually
proposed," said Jim Talent, a former Missouri senator and
frequent Romney surrogate told reporters on the conference call.
KILLING DAD'S OLD DEPARTMENT?
Romney said he might eliminate HUD, which once was led by
his late father, George Romney, and seek to restructure the
Department of Education.
"Things like Housing and Urban Development, which my dad was
head of, that might not be around later," Romney told the Palm
Beach crowd, according to NBC. "But I'm not going to actually go
through these one by one. What I can tell you is, we've got far
too many bureaucrats. I will send a lot of what happens in
Washington back to the states."
Romney also talked about realizing the political perils of
attacking the Education Department during his failed run for a
U.S. Senate seat in 1994.
"The Department of Education: I will either consolidate with
another agency, or perhaps make it a heck of a lot smaller. I'm
not going to get rid of it entirely," Romney added, explaining
that part of his reasoning behind preserving the agency was that
it played a role in pushing back against teachers' unions,
according to NBC.
Romney also discussed campaign strategy during the meeting,
saying Republicans will need to woo Hispanics, who represent
more than 20 percent of the voting population in many important
swing states and, polls show, favor Democratic President Barack
Obama over Romney by large margins.
Romney's wife, Ann, also addressed a recent campaign
controversy in remarks at the Palm Beach fundraiser. She said
she was delighted about a recent comment from a Democratic cable
television pundit that seemed to criticize her for staying home
and raise their five sons rather than holding a job outside the
The comment on CNN from Hilary Rosen quickly escalated into
a fracas over the role of women in American society and gave
Romney, who is scrambling to improve his ratings among women
voters, a chance to reach them through his wife.
"It was my early birthday present for someone to be critical
of me as a mother," said Ann Romney, who turned 63 on Monday.
"That was a really defining moment, and I loved it."
(Additional reporting by Sam Youngman; Editing by David Lindsey
and Xavier Briand)