Charles Dharapak/AP

Romney: GOP involvement in 2011 debt deal was ‘mistake’

Presidential candidate says sequestration should not have been proposed.

In comments that contrast with those of his running mate, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney told NBC News’ Meet the Press in an interview aired Sunday that Republican involvement in the 2011 bipartisan deal to extend the nation’s debt ceiling was “a mistake,” even though it averted a government default and possible chaos in the financial markets.

During the interview with NBC’s David Gregory, Romney said President Obama is to blame for provisional defense cuts that were part of the deal with Congress. When Gregory noted that Republican congressional leaders agreed to the so-called sequestration provision, Romney responded:

“And that’s a big mistake. I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it. The president was responsible for coming out with specific changes they’d make to the defense budget. … The American people need to understand how it is that our defense is going to be so badly cut.”

Romney's comments are at odds with those of his running mate Paul Ryan, who wrote in a National Reviewopinion column last year that the deal "takes an important step in the right direction."

"We still have a long way to go toward getting the key drivers of our debt — especially federal health-care spending — under control," Ryan wrote. "But considering that House Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, I support this reasonable, responsible effort to cut government spending, avoid a default, and help create a better environment for job creation."

Ryan also defended his vote on Face the Nation Sunday. "I worked with President Obama to find common ground to get a down payment on deficit reduction," he said. "It wasn't a big down payment, but it was a step in the right direction."

A little more than a year ago, as part of a deal to extend the nation’s borrowing limit and avoid default, the Obama White House and congressional Republicans agreed to $109 billion in automatic spending cuts, including $55 billion from defense programs, if a congressional “super committee” failed to find adequate savings elsewhere to meet budget targets. The super committee admitted failure in November.

Ryan also differentiated himself further from Romney by refusing to say that he would reject a hypothetical debt reduction deal — composed of a 10-to-1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases — that Romney joined other GOP candidates in rejecting during a presidential primary debate last year.

“You know, it depends on the quality of the agreement," Ryan said on ABC's This Week. "It depends on the quality of the policy. Our negotiators in the super committee offered higher revenues through tax reform. John Boehner did as well. So George, what really matters to me is not ratios but what matters is the quality of the policy."

In another portion of the Meet The Press interview, Romney complimented former President Bill Clinton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention, which concluded Thursday, and said he thinks Clinton upstaged Obama.

“He did stand out in contrast with the other speakers,” Romney says of Clinton’s Wednesday night stem-winder. “I think he really did elevate the Democrat convention in a lot of ways. And frankly, the contrast may not have been as attractive as Barack Obama might have preferred if he were choosing who’d go before him and who’d go after.”

Clinton spoke a day before Obama delivered his acceptance speech on Thursday night.

Eric Katz contributed to this story.