Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said on Wednesday that he's "not concerned about the very poor," citing the social safety net in place for that segment of the populace and adding that he's focused on the middle class.
"I'm in this race because I care about Americans. I'm not concerned about the very poor. We have a safety net there. If it needs repair, I'll fix it," the Republican front-runner said Wednesday on CNN, following his victory in the Florida primary. "I'm not concerned about the very rich, they're doing just fine. I'm concerned about the very heart of the America, the 90 percent, 95 percent of Americans who right now are struggling."
CNN's Soledad O'Brien pressed him on his comments, adding that they may sound odd for Americans who are very poor.
"Well you had to finish the sentence, Soledad," he replied. "I said 'I'm not concerned about the very poor that have a safety net but if it has holes in it, I will repair them.' The challenge right now -- we will hear from the Democrat party the plight of the poor. And there's no question it's not good being poor and we have a safety net to help those that are very poor. But my campaign is focused on middle-income Americans."
"We have a very ample safety net," said Romney. "And we can talk about whether it needs to be strengthened or whether there are holes in it. But we have food stamps, we have Medicaid, we have housing vouchers, we have programs to help the poor."
Programs in the "safety net" are also suffering during the economic recession. Medicaid, for example faces cuts as states attempt to balance budgets at a time when more people are using the program. GOP lawmakers have also eyed cuts in food stamps as food prices rise, even though more Americans are using the the program as a consequence of the economic recession.
Romney's policies call for cutting federal spending and reconfiguring the social safety net. He calls for an immediate five-percent cut to non-discretionary spending, which would hit the safety net hard. He proposes turning Medicaid into a block grant program and undertaking a "fundamental restructuring of government programs and services." He also calls for capping spending at 20 percent of GDP -- a significant cut -- and adds that he "will pursue further cuts" as spending comes "under control."
Romney's statement is part of a pattern of previously poorly phrased remarks that give his competitors fodder to call the former Bain Capital founder -- who is worth between $190 million and $250 million -- out of touch with the economic recession.
"Don't try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom," he said last October in Las Vegas, the hardest-hit metro area by the foreclosure crisis.
In January, Romney said, "I like being able to fire people who provide services to me" to explain why he favored competition among health insurers. "If someone doesn't give me the good service I need, I want to say I am going to get somebody else to provide that service to me."
UPDATE: Reporters asked Romney about his comments Wednesday on a plane to Minneapolis. "No, no, no, no, no, no, no," he said, according to the AP. "No, no, no. You've got to take the whole sentence, alright, it's mostly the same." He repeated his previous comments about the safety net, and added that "if there are people that are falling through the cracks, I want to fix that."
"President Obama has destroyed the middle class. His policies have given us a stagnant economy, high unemployment, declining wages, increase in poverty, and record amounts of new debt," said Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul Wednesday. "President Obama is so detached from what is happening in the real world that he finds it hard to believe an unemployed engineer can't find a job. President Obama calls the plight of the unemployed 'interesting.' Mitt Romney calls it 'inexcusable.' We look forward debating President Obama on how his policies have failed the middle class."