Romney races ahead of Bachmann, backs ‘Cut, Cap and Balance’

Former Massachusetts Gov. and frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination Mitt Romney raced ahead of his conservative rival Rep. Michele Bachmann Wednesday on a key barometer of fiscal conservatism, backing the “Cut, Cap and Balance” plan of the conservative wing of the House GOP conference.

“I am for ‘Cut, Cap and Balance,'” Romney told reporters shortly after a meeting with Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee.

Romney’s backing for the plan puts him to the right of conservative darling Bachmann, who congressional sources say is still considering whether to back the plan.

Romney’s voice as GOP frontrunner is also likely to raise the profile of “cut, cap and balance” in the ongoing debt ceiling negotiations between Republicans and Democrats.

Republican House Speaker John Boehner has pushed broadly for cuts and spending reforms, not the plan conservatives favor, and the right flank of Boehner’s caucus remains suspicious of House leadership on key provisions like the balance budget amendment to the Constitution introduced by Rep. Joe Walsh of Illinois.

Lee applauded Romney’s decision in a statement released after the meeting. “I was happy to hear that Gov. Romney supports the Cut, Cap and Balance Pledge including a Balanced Budget Amendment — one of my top priorities — and that his focus remains on growing the economy to create good jobs for our country,” Lee said.

Idaho Republican Sen. Jim Risch entered the meeting between Lee and Romney as it was in progress.

The pledge, increasingly emerging as a litmus test for Republican presidential candidates, is also supported by former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain, Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.

(Conservative groups, lawmakers officially roll out Cut, Cap, Balance Pledge)

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich announced his support for the pledge on Tuesday.

The pledge calls for no increase to the nation’s debt limit without major spending cuts, a cap to spending, and a Balanced Budget Amendment.

Romney will meet later in the day with Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.