Exeter, New Hampshire (CNN) - In a speech notable for both its specificity and the warm audience response, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney pledged Thursday to cut federal spending and improve government productivity.
Speaking to an effusive audience of several hundred in New Hampshire, Romney said if elected he would bring a businessman's philosophy to Washington. He promised to cut $500 billion in federal spending during his first term in office, and said he would cut funding to Amtrak, some foreign aid programs and President Obama's health care plan.
He also said he would send funds for programs including Medicaid back to states to distribute as they see fit, and work to reduce redundancies in federal assistance programs such food stamps and Medicaid.
Romney told the audience he would be forced to make cuts he didn't want to make, but that the nation's long-term fiscal health depended on making difficult decisions.
"There are other programs I like, and I don't want to cut them," he said, adding that Republican leaders needed to be willing to make those tough choices. "It is a moral responsibility to believe in fiscal responsibility. We do and I do."
He said also he would reduce federal employment by 10% through attrition.
Romney also leveled a veiled attack against Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who suggested in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader last week that he would wait to focus on reducing the deficit until the economy was back on its feet.
"I'm less worried about whether or not we've got budget holes to fill in the early years than I am getting the confidence of the job creators that they can actually go out and risk their capital and have a chance to have a return on their investment and create jobs," Perry told the Union Leader.
To audience applause in Exeter Thursday, Romney said reducing the deficit would be an early priority for him.
"Deficits do matter. They matter a lot," he said. "We're a party who recognizes you don't spend what you don't have."
His speech was peppered with anecdotes from his time spent in the private sector. During his tenure at the helm of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah, Romney said, he scaled back fancy luncheons for members of the company's board. Instead, he said he served pizza and soft drinks, and charged $1 for members to partake.
After his speech Romney was surrounded by supporters who eagerly pressed in on him as he worked his way towards the exit.
Romney will follow his New Hampshire event with a policy speech on spending Friday in Washington.
–Follow Rachel Sreitfeld on Twitter: @StreitfeldCNN