NORTH LAS VEGAS, Nev. — Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney called Tuesday for a broad rewrite of the relationship between businesses and Washington, promising an annual growth rate of 4 percent and 11.5 million more jobs under a Romney administration.
Mr. Romney’s speech was the curtain-raiser for an active week on economic issues and in the presidential campaign, which is gearing up after Labor Day. Republican presidential candidates will debate in California on Wednesday, and President Obama follows the next night with a major address to a joint session of Congress.
Mr. Romney, who was a one-term governor of Massachusetts, called for cutting government regulations and took particular aim at China, arguing that the top U.S. competitor for the position as the world’s leading economy is manipulating its currency and must face consequences if it does not abide by international trade rules.
“I’ll clamp down on the cheaters, and China’s the worst example of that,” he said as he stood beneath a banner that read, “Day one, job one.” “We’re not going to have a trade war, but we’re not going to have a trade surrender, either.”
The jobs issue has dominated politics over the past three years as the economy hit a deep recession and sputtered in recovering. Last week brought news that the economy did not add any net jobs in August.
Mr. Romney, who ran an investment fund before turning to politics, repeatedly blamed the president for stifling the economy by expanding government without promoting growth.
“He’s not a bad guy. He just doesn’t have a clue what to do,” Mr. Romney said, calling the president’s economic plans “a pay-phone strategy, and we’re a smartphone world.”
The Democratic National Committee, in a memo issued before his speech, said Mr. Romney was rehashing old ideas and contended that his desire to win tea party voters in the Republican primary is costing him credibility.
“By adopting the extreme policy prescriptions of the tea party, we know Mitt Romney’s vision is of an America that has to lower its sights, can’t realize its full potential and has to put the narrow interests of the privileged few ahead of everyone else,” the DNC said.
It also sought to turn his real-world business experience against him, saying he laid off workers during his time as head of Bain Capital LLC, the private equity firm he ran.
Mr. Romney pointed to the firm’s investment in Staples, the office-supply chain that he said some had argued against funding, but which is now responsible for 90,000 jobs.
Mr. Romney is running second in national surveys of the GOP’s presidential field, having surrendered the lead last month to Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
In a statement Tuesday, Mark Miner, a spokesman for Mr. Perry, said Mr. Romney failed to create a job-producing environment during his term as governor of Massachusetts and whiffed when he could have instituted some of the policies he announced in his speech.
Still, given his credentials, Mr. Romney’s economic speech is likely to be the standard by which the other Republican candidates will be judged, and it inevitably will be contrasted with Mr. Obama’s speech on Thursday.
The president has said he will call for infrastructure investment, for extending benefits to deal with the long-term jobless, and for extending the payroll tax cut that he and congressional Republicans agreed to enact last year in an effort to boost the economy.
House Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Virginia Republican, sent the president a letter Tuesday asking that he meet with them ahead of his speech.
“Obviously, achieving bipartisan agreement on these and other initiatives requires more than just one side declaring a proposal to be ‘bipartisan,’ ” the Republicans wrote. “It requires that we work together. As such, we would suggest that prior to your address to Congress you convene a bipartisan, bicameral meeting of the congressional leadership so that we may have the opportunity to constructively discuss your proposals.”
A White House spokesman told reporters that Mr. Obama already has consulted “both inside and outside the administration” and said that will continue when he speaks Thursday.
“I’m sure the president will be consulting with leaders of Congress going forward as he moves forward by presenting his jobs and growth package to the Congress, by calling on them to act,” said press secretary Jay Carney. “You will see that it is a significant proposal, but it contains ideas that have historically garnered bipartisan support by the very members who will sit in the hall on Thursday night.”
Democrats have said they want solutions that can boost jobs now, which likely means spending in the short term, with a pledge for deficit reduction in future years so financial markets don’t get spooked.
Republicans, though, say the president’s $825 billion stimulus failed and argue that another round of spending is unlikely to do the trick. They are calling for a halt to regulations, which Mr. Romney said impose a cost of $1.7 trillion a year on businesses.
Mr. Romney spoke from notes, but not from a prepared speech, and drew a large ovation when he pointed out he wasn’t speaking from a teleprompter.
He addressed a small crowd at a truck dealership in North Las Vegas.
Nevada is slated to hold the third nominating contest in next year’s primary season, with its caucuses following Iowa’s first-in-the-nation contest and New Hampshire’s primary.
In conjunction with his speech, his campaign produced a 59-point plan, detailed in a 160-page book, that called for eliminating taxes on capital gains, dividends and interest on Americans with incomes of up to $200,000.
Other parts of his plan include:
• Reviewing and repealing many of the regulations written during Mr. Obama’s tenure.
• Curbing unions by making different appointments to the National Labor Relations Board, and pushing for changes to labor laws that would establish a secret ballot in union elections.
• Offering more visas to encourage highly skilled foreigners to work in the U.S.
• Cutting non-defense discretionary spending by 5 percent, reducing the federal workforce by 10 percent through attrition, and capping overall federal government spending at 20 percent of gross domestic product.
Free-market conservative advocacy group Club for Growth praised Mr. Romney’s proposals as “positive steps” but said his language on China was worrisome.
“A President Romney would be wise to avoid starting a trade war with China, and punitive duties like the ones proposed by Romney are the first step in that direction,” said the group’s president, Chris Chocola, a former Republican congressman from Indiana.