COLUMBIA -- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich on Friday raised the ante on the fight between Boeing and the National Labor Relations Board, an emerging issue in this key early-primary state.

Making his first visit to South Carolina as a declared Republican presidential candidate, Gingrich said Congress should cut funding for the NLRB and tie that move to congressional talks over increasing the nation's debt limit.

The NLRB said Boeing built a non-union assembly plant in North Charleston in retaliation for a 2008 union strike in Washington state, where most of that work is now done by union workers.

"I think it's something they should consider seriously putting on the debt ceiling," Gingrich told a Columbia civic group. That way, he said, President Barack Obama would have to "explain to the rest of the country that he's prepared to veto the debt ceiling over his right to attack every right-to-work state."

Republican Gov. Nikki Haley, who has been leading attacks on the NLRB, has insisted that GOP presidential candidates address the issue.

Candidates are obliging, saying that the NLRB is a job killer, Obama's appointees should be ousted, and Congress should strip its funding.

During his Friday visit, Gingrich also offered a glimpse of a more scripted presidential candidate, looking down as he read a speech as often as he looked up at the crowd of about 150.

It wasn't until he went off script and started taking questions that the former Georgia congressman coaxed applause and laughs.

Feeling more scripted lately? "Oh sure," Gingrich said afterward.

"I think when you run for president you have to have a much more focused approach than back when -- you know, I was an analyst for Fox. Very different business."

Gingrich has recently been dodging questions about a now-paid tab of $250,000 to $500,000 at Tiffany & Co. While he told the Columbia audience that he's not afraid and prepared to fight, he has declined to detail the Tiffany spending, saying it's a private matter.

Two weeks ago Gingrich was off-script by national GOP standards when he criticized U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan's Medicare overhaul proposal requiring vouchers. He soon apologized to Ryan and admonished opponents and the media for making what he said was much ado about nothing.

On Friday, Gingrich touted optional private Medicare savings accounts, not Ryan's mandatory Medicare vouchers for people now younger than 55.