By Ros Krasny
SALEM, New Hampshire (Reuters) - Slowing the pace of increases in Social Security benefits for wealthier Americans would be one way to help keep the retirement program solvent, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said on Monday.
Romney said benefit adjustment for wealthy recipients should be tied to the consumer price index rather than the faster-rising wage index.
That, along with an increase in the retirement age, would help plug the shortfalls in Social Security, Romney said at a town hall meeting in Salem, New Hampshire.
"I would rather have slower benefit growth for higher income beneficiaries" than raising taxes, he said, adding that current retirees or near-retirees should face "no changes at all" in benefits. "I do not want to raise taxes on anyone."
Recent missteps in debates by rival Rick Perry, the Texas governor, have helped Romney regain front-runner status in the race for the 2012 Republican primary nomination.
Romney looked energized on Monday while stumping in the key early primary state, where he holds a wide lead in the most polls.
The former governor of neighboring Massachusetts was peppered with questions on immigration, the war in Afghanistan, relations with Pakistan and gun control by a mostly supportive crowd of about 300.
Pakistan, Romney said, "is not acting like an ally," and should decide if it wants to support the United States or the Taliban; choosing the Taliban would have "significant consequences."
Romney kept up a hard line against illegal immigration, a topic on which he has hammered his rival, Texas Governor Rick Perry, in recent days.
"If we've got enough money to give credits to people for going to college, let those credits go to American citizens," Romney said, a dig at Perry's support for a Texas bill that allows the children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state college tuition rates.
Romney also criticized President Barack Obama's comments that the United States "has gotten a little soft," made in a television interview last week while arguing for more investment in science and infrastructure.
"It's not that we have become soft ... it's that he's on our shoulders and is too heavy. We want to get him off our shoulders so we can run again," Romney said.
(Reporting by Ros Krasny; Editing by Eric Walsh)