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Romney defends economic plan: I'm not changing progressive tax code

Mitt Romney defended his economic policy on Sunday from criticisms on both the right and left, saying he is not using the language of class warfare in defending the progressive tax code and he is not destroying the poor's safety net by cutting federal programs driving up the deficit.

Romney's plan, introduced in detail during a speech in Detroit last week, would cut individual marginal tax rates by 20 percent 'across the board,' eliminate taxes on capital gains and dividends for families making less than $200,000, cut the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 25 percent and slowly raise eligibility requirements on wealthier Americans to receive Medicare and Social Security

Though praised by "The Wall Street Journal" editorial board, Romney's opponent Rick Santorum said the Massachusetts governor's approach is the same class warfare supported by President Obama. Santorum accused Romney of using the language of Occupy Wall Street to make life more difficult and to change the rules on the top income earners.

"Whatever choice of language I have to use, I want to make sure to get across to the American people, I'm cutting rates across the board by 20 percent," the Republican presidential candidate told "Fox News Sunday."

But Romney, who acknowledged that the plan does eliminate deductions and and exemptions for high-income earners, said he is not trying to pit one group against another or give a better deal to certain taxpayers over others. 

"I want to get these rates down so we get American workers back into jobs again," he said, adding that he wants to maintain the progressivity of the tax code while lowering the marginal rate across the board.

"What I'm trying to do is to make sure that under no circumstances is the middle class going to end up with a larger share of the tax burden," he said.

Santorum too has had to fight off charges that he is picking winners and losers in his economic plan, which calls for eliminating taxes on manufacturers that return to the U.S. from abroad and cutting the corporate tax for all other industries in half. 

Santorum denied that's he's stacking the deck in favor of one industry. 

"What we have to realize is that manufacturers have to compete not against just other manufacturers in this country, they have to compete internationally, directly internationally for the jobs to stay in America. And so the problem is the government -- and our tax and regulatory policy -- the government's policy is making manufacturers in this country uncompetitive, and as a result, manufacturing jobs are moving offshore," Santorum told NBC's "Meet the Press."

"So if the government is causing the problem, then government has a responsibility to fix the problem. ... It's about creating a level playing field. I am for equality of opportunity," he said, adding that his ideas are far more dramatic than the "warmed over" and "timid" plans of an "institutional insider being designed by a whole bunch of Washington lobbyists who are basically running his campaign."

Aside from Santorum, Romney's plan has also been criticized on the left for being revenue neutral, in other words, not doing enough to close the deficit through the tax code. Instead, Romney's plan calls for eliminating a lot of federal programs, including poverty programs, and sending them to the states to manage. His plan calls for $500 billion in spending cuts in 2016.

Romney said his tax plan is similar to President Obama's own bipartisan commission, which was ultimately rejected by the president, and added that he believes in smaller government.

"This is a classic pitting of two very different philosophies," he said. "If this is an argument about President Obama saying hey, look, don't cut back on federal, keep on growing this deficit, I think that's a battle I'm going to win because I am planning on cutting the deficit down to zero. I'm planning to get the balanced budget and at the same time getting this economy going again."

Both men talked policy just two days before Republican primary voters in Michigan and Arizona go to the polls. Romney has seen his poll numbers go up in the state even as his favorability rating drops.  

"If people think that there is something wrong with being successful in America, then they better vote for the other guy because I've been extraordinarily successful and I want to use that success and that know-how to help the American people," he said.

On the other hand, Santorum has seen his poll numbers go down since a critical debate last week in Arizona. He chalked it up to negative campaigning by Romney and his surrogates in Michigan.

"We've been under assault now for about three weeks, of course, you know that's going to drive up -- drive up our negatives a little bit," he said. 

The two are statistically tied in polling in Michigan with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul far behind in the field of GOP candidates.