WASHINGTON Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich on Friday proposed a pro-business economic agenda to trigger job growth, moving quickly to use the fragile economy as a centerpiece of his campaign.
Gingrich, in his first public speech since declaring himself a 2012 candidate on Wednesday, offered a menu of standard conservative fare deeply opposed by his Democratic adversaries in remarks to a group led by economist Arthur Laffer.
Gingrich, who was speaker of the House of Representatives in the 1990s and is known as an ideas man, trails many of his main rivals for the 2012 Republican nomination.
But having just become a formal candidate after years of talking about it, Gingrich is off to a quick start.
He speaks in his home state of Georgia later on Friday and on Saturday addresses Eureka College in Illinois, where Republican icon Ronald Reagan was educated. Next week he launches a five-day, 17-city tour of Iowa, the early voting state where he needs to make a mark.
"I think this is going to be the happiest, most positive campaign of my lifetime," Gingrich said.
Gingrich said he helped the United States get to a balanced budget in the 1990s, when Democrat Bill Clinton was president, and believes he knows how to get it done now, as lawmakers grapple with a $1.4 trillion deficit.
He said the answer is to generate job growth both to increase tax revenues and to get the unemployed off of government compensation. The United States currently has a 9 percent jobless rate although job growth has picked up steam in recent months.
"The first big step toward balancing the budget is 4 percent unemployment," he said.
To trigger job growth, Gingrich proposed to cut the U.S. corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 12.5 percent, a deeper cut than some other Republican politicians have offered.
He would extend income tax cuts that expire in 2013, which were the subject of a pitched battle late last year when President Barack Obama tried to let tax reductions for wealthier Americans expire.
And he would completely eliminate the capital gains tax on stock profits.
Gingrich, proposed that the country move toward an optional flat tax for Americans of 15 percent, and strengthen the dollar by returning to "Reagan-era monetary policies," and reform the Federal Reserve to promote transparency.
Gingrich would break up government-backed mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
He would replace the Environmental Protection Agency with an organization that would promote U.S. energy growth.
Most of these ideas are likely to raise the hackles of Democrats, who contend they are the failed policies of the past.
But Gingrich said Democratic policies are turning the United States into a larger version of Detroit, the auto industry city battered by tough economic times.
"The left understands how to destroy the American economy," he said. "They're working at it diligently."
(Editing by Eric Beech)