Boston, Massachusetts (CNN) - The night after fielding blistering attacks for his views on Social Security, a jovial Rick Perry told a Boston audience he was the only GOP candidate willing to fix the entitlement program.
The Texas governor, who has repeatedly called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme," was the focus of sustained criticism at the CNN/Tea Party Debate Monday. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said using the term "Ponzi scheme" was "over the top, unnecessary and frightening" to Americans.
Perry fired back at Romney's criticism on Social Security Tuesday on Romney's home turf.
"Other candidates in this race use words like 'fraud' and compared it to a criminal enterprise," Perry said in Boston, repeating an accusation he leveled at Romney the previous night. "And under the media spotlight they change their tune and they start sounding like liberals."
At the debate Romney denied Perry's charge he called the entitlement program a "criminal enterprise."
Reforming Social Security has traditionally been a third-rail issue that politicians address at their peril.
Sensing a potential weakness in the current front-runner for the Republican ticket, both Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann's campaigns have already circulated flyers criticizing Perry for his views.
But in a speech peppered with jokes, Perry did not back down.
"Republican primary voters want candidates who not only campaign like conservatives but they also govern that way too," he said Tuesday. "It is time for our leaders to admit our problem. It is our first step on the road to recovery."
Perry was the keynote speaker at the Better Government Competition awards dinner in downtown Boston. The event was hosted by the Pioneer Institute think tank and honored award winners for submitting "budget busting" ideas to make government more efficient.
The Texas governor joked with the crowd but also appeared tired, speaking slowly and occasionally searching for words during his speech.
He also jokingly compared politicians in Washington, D.C., to addicts in treatment.
"There ought to be a 12-step program for Washington, D.C.," he said, to laughter from the audience. "The first step should be: admit you are powerless over your spending addiction and that your budget has become unmanageable."