PHILADELPHIA – Mitt Romney's aides soft-pedaled his latest tax pronouncements on Monday, insisting he wasn't tipping his hand when he told donors privately that he might seek to end the tax break for mortgages on second homes and curb other deductions for the wealthy as part of tax reform.
"He was just discussing ideas that came up on the campaign trail," said former Sen. Jim Talent of Missouri, a frequent campaign surrogate. The remarks, made at a closed-door fundraiser in Florida and overheard by reporters, did not mark any "change in policy," Talent said on a conference call with reporters.
Whatever his intention, Romney's remarks drew a tepid response from Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the chairman of the tax-writing House Ways and Means Committee.
"I'm going to listen very carefully" to Romney's ideas, the lawmaker told reporters. "Obviously, as a presidential candidate, he is going to have some ideas on tax reform."
Camp added: "They're not necessarily views the committee has adopted yet. But we're going to be looking at all those items."
Camp said he has spoken to Romney several times about tax policy.
Twice during the day, Romney himself passed up an opportunity to repeat his weekend comments.
Speaking to the Independence Hall Tea Party, he said he wants to reduce taxes while President Barack Obama wants to raise them. "Taxes by their very definition limit our freedom. They should be as small as possible to do things that are absolutely vital," he said.
Earlier, in an ABC interview, he said: "I'm going to limit certain deductions and exemptions for high-income individuals so that even as we lower the rates for all Americans, we're not going to shift the burden from -- middle-income people to higher-income people."
As for abolishing federal agencies, he said, "I'm not proposing any eliminations at this point."
In his remarks over the weekend, Romney also mentioned possible elimination of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and dramatically scaling back the Education Department.
Romney mentioned possible elimination of state and local tax deductions for the wealthy as part of a plan to reduce income tax rates across the board.
Democrats quickly accused the former Massachusetts governor of telling his financial supporters plans he has yet to share with the public. Ironically, the weekend fundraising flap took place less than two weeks after Romney accused Obama of conducting a "hide and seek" campaign in which he left the public in the dark about his plans for any second term.
If nothing else, the attention Romney's remarks drew underscored the increased scrutiny he faces as the party's presidential nominee-in-waiting.
With former Sen. Rick Santorum on the sidelines after suspending his campaign, Romney was campaigning across Pennsylvania for two days in advance of next week's primary, then flying to North Carolina and Arizona.
Romney has said he wants to keep all the broad tax cuts from expiring that were first approved under President George W. Bush. He also has said he wants to reduce tax rates by 20 percent, but he has not previously offered much detail about how he would pay for the costs of doing that. Nor has he defined an income level that would place a taxpayer in the class of the wealthy.
Democrats have favored extending the Bush tax cuts, but not for the wealthiest Americans. Tax treatment of the rich has become a defining issue in this year's presidential and congressional campaigns as the two parties vie for votes, with each arguing that it has the best ideas for reviving the economy.
Romney's weekend remarks were first reported by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News.