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Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney: How different are they on the economy?

If Newt Gingrich is the new 'anti-Romney,' shouldn't they have fundamental differences? While the two share some views on core economic issues, Gingrich has staked out other positions well to Romney's right. 

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The Gingrich campaign argues that Americans will opt into the personal-account system, because of its promise of higher lifetime benefits, in the process "drastically lowering [Social Security's] burden on taxpayers."

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In all, Gingrich appears to occupy ground well to the right of Romney on several fronts.

As New York Times political blogger Nate Silver put it recently, Gingrich's score on a conservatism meter "would be fairly close to that of Gov. Rick Perry, which in my view represents something of a sweet spot for the Republican primary electorate: solidly conservative but not in Michele Bachmann territory."

What about positions on health care and immigration?

Gingrich says that, in supporting an individual health insurance mandate in the early 1990s, he was teaming up with the conservative Heritage Foundation against Clinton administration health care proposals.

But as recently as four years ago, though, he wrote approvingly of requiring "anyone who earns more than $50,000 a year to purchase health insurance or post a bond." That was in a larger commentary, which also espoused "market-based reforms," written in his role as founder of the Center for Health Transformation.

And this year he ruffled conservative feathers by joining liberals in criticizing a radical overhaul plan for Medicare proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin.

Instead of phasing out Medicare in its current form, Gingrich would allow seniors to choose a private-sector insurance system. "This would create price competition to lower costs," as well as giving individuals "greater options for better care," his campaign website says.

On immigration, Gingrich drew criticism from Romney and others for arguing for a kind of "amnesty" (the critics' word) for illegal immigrants. Gingrich's proposal, however, focuses on legal residency and stops short of flinging the doors of citizenship wide open.

"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century ... and expel them," Gingrich said. Fox News anchor Bret Baier recently asked Romney to clarify how his view differs from that of Gingrich. Romney didn't answer Mr. Baier directly.

At least one conservative pundit, former Education Secretary William Bennett, has rushed to defend Gingrich's position.

"Newt Gingrich's immigration plan could be a breakthrough moment for conservatives," he said Tuesday in a column for the CNN website. "It could be a new kind of signal from conservatives that we are not bound in an absolutist straitjacket when it comes to immigration reform."

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