David Lightman

DETROIT: Mitt Romney on Friday offered a sweeping plan to boost the American economy, a program loaded with previously outlined tax and spending cuts as well as new emphasis on how he’d change future Social Security and Medicare benefits.

He pledged repeatedly to reduce federal deficits, but an independent analysis has found that his plan, like those of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, would add trillions to the government’s surging debt over 10 years.

Any serious plan to reduce the debt needs some revenue-raising component, and “on that score, all of these candidates fail,” said Alice Rivlin, the former Federal Reserve vice chairwoman and federal budget director who co-chaired a 2010 bipartisan panel that recommended deficit-reduction strategies.

Apart from Texas Rep. Ron Paul, the GOP presidential candidates’ plans are largely similar. All want lower taxes, big spending cuts and changes in Social Security and Medicare. Paul alone proposes plans that, if enacted, would reduce the national debt over time.

Romney is promoting himself as a business-turnaround specialist uniquely qualified to ease the nation’s economic pain. But he’s locked in a tight contest with former Pennsylvania Sen. Santorum as they fight to win Michigan’s GOP presidential primary on Tuesday.

Romney spent much of his 25-minute talk Friday to the Detroit Economic Club trying to promote the image that he’s the most presidential GOP candidate.

Speaking from the 35-yard line to 1,200 people sitting on the Detroit Lions’ football field, Romney insisted that he was the only Republican who could beat President Barack Obama.

“I not only think I have the best chance,” he said, “I think I have the only chance.”

The Obama campaign quickly fired back. “The lip service Mitt Romney paid to the middle class today was as empty as the stadium he stood in,” said press secretary Ben LaBolt. The stadium has 65,000 seats.

Romney, who grew up in the Detroit area, also appealed to local sensibilities. “I like the fact that most of the cars I see are Detroit-made automobiles.” He said he drives a Mustang and a Chevy pickup and his wife, Ann, “drives a couple of Cadillacs, actually.”

Romney reviewed his proposals to cut income tax rates by 20 percent across the board and to reduce federal spending to 20 percent of gross domestic product, down from 24 percent.

He said he would slowly raise the retirement age for future Social Security recipients, but he gave no details, and he promised to “slow the growth in benefits for higher-income retirees.”

The Social Security full-benefit retirement age now varies depending on the year of birth. For those born between 1943 and 1954, full benefits are available once they turn 66. The age gradually increases; those born after 1960 will be fully eligible at age 67.

For Medicare, Romney said that he would have the private sector “compete to offer insurance coverage at the lowest possible price.”

Starting in 2022, new retirees would participate in the new system. Medicare’s eligibility age would increase by one month each year.

The current eligibility age for most Medicare recipients is 65.