* 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 out ideas.
"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 home.
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)