9:41 and good morning from University Hospitals in Iowa City, where Mitt Romney is due in four minutes. This morning's Register says he's the bet in the field at being on time, so any minute now I'll be binging you his remarks.
Iowans for Health Care has the purple shirts here, despite the SEIU Edwards endorsement, so we're watching for some bird-dogging questions.
A middle-aged woman reading a novel while she waits won't give her name, but says she's trying to choose between Romney and Mike Huckabee. Peter Eubanks of Iowa City, waiting with his three small children, is comMITTed (sorry, had to). "He's a proven health care leader who's gotten results. His plan got Ted Kennedy AND the Heritage Foundation excited, and I admire anyone who can do that."
The TV scrum is arriving at 9:52.
Head of Students for Romney and Dr. Steve Hunter handling the intro. Hunter touts the straw poll win. "Gov Romney's the only one who's actually done health care reform."
Romney is on at 9:54. Says he can work across the aisle and with private sector on health care.
Drops phrase "global jihad." Whipping through a laundry list of issues but the recurring theme is global competitiveness. "Getting married before they have babies" draws the first applause. (scattered.)
Talks of early days as governor and health care: "I'm not gonna raise taxes and I'm not gonna let the government take it over either."
So plan's all private-sector base: buy the policy you can afford, gov't pays part of premium for poor. Paid for by reduced emergency room costs. That's what he says. Cites conservative humorist PJ O'Rourke: "If you think health care's expensive now, wait till it's free."
Says Mass. isn't perfect but "a big step forward." Plan not yet universal, but "we're getting there, we have some teeth in it." Pro bono care is filling some gaps in a test program, he says.
"Very different approach than Edwards, Clinton and Obama are talking about. Their plan is we give them government insurance." "Get gov't out of it" draws applause.
"We can either follow the Democrats on a sharp left turn toward the Europe of old, or Ronald Reagan's vision of America to keep gov't small and strengthen America." Drops references to "families" for second time. "Marriage is between a man and a woman" draws applause, and kids need a mom and a dad.
Stronger Family, Good Jobs, Stronger Military. The Mitt Three Bullet Points.
Speech proper wraps at 10:06, about 12 minutes. Makes the pledge card pitch. "We want you to vote there two or three times," he jokes.
Doctor takes first question, offers comments on indigent care. Common at UIHC, and it's good, but he says in other parts of the country it's not as good. Mitt: "In my state, people don't get a gov't insurance card, they get private insurance" and that gives them better care.
Next question: do we need more doctors, and is equipment too expensive. Mitt says we need more docs and especially more nurses. But says cost is 1) 47 million uninsured not payig anything and 2) cost of equipment. Need more incentives for people to cost-compare. Need more competition on equipment. Questioner persists on cost of CAT scanners, Mitt asks "What's your proposal?" Questioner suggests limiting the price. Mitt: "I don't believe in price controls. I do believe in having ample competition." Gets applause.
Next questioner says China is raising prices on US medical equipment. First Romney brings the guy up on stage, then has him show off the Salt Lake '02 Olympic jacket he's wearing. Turns out he was an Olympic volunteer Romney riffs on that for a couple minutes. Then moves to the question, talks about China and copyright issues. "We have to get China to play fair." Says he wasn't familiar with med. equip. specifically but the principle applies.
An inaudible questioner... Mitt repeats; the affordability of medical school. He notes his own pre-med son. 1) Tax free savings (applause) under $200k income. 2) Scholarships for superior performance.
Federal support of biomedical research comes from above. "I feel like I'm in K-Mart," says Mitt, and I wonder when he was last in a K-Mart. Romney discusses non-fetal stem cells. "I do not believe in either embryo farming or cloning."
Will private insurance be able to deny coverage? Says Mass. has a board that takes care of this, and Dem. legislature took it further and won't allow sale of unapproved plans. "Catastrophic illness like breast cancer ought to be covered."
Do you expect a national Mass. style plan, or leave it to states. "My plan is a good model for other states and the nation." Expects mass plan to be tweaked as it plays out. "I will use federal dollars as incentives to get states to reform their markets" and use fed. dollars to get everyone insured. "My plan and Hillary Clinton's could not be more different. Hers gives everybody gov't insurance, mine doesn't." Rolls on this for a while without naming other Democrats.
Liability and Malpractice. "An extraordinary lottery for lawyers -- look at John Edwards' house." Cap the non-economic damages. "I believe in federal tort liability reforms. Runaway awards are not good for medicine."
Applause at the end of each question.
Taxes on the rich. 30 percent pay no tax at all, Mitt says, citing Earned Income Credit... "middle income Americans making $200k or less will pay no tax on savings." "I don't lose sleep worrying about our highest income Americans. I do worry about families."
HIPAA health care privacy law interferes with medical research, asserts a questioner. Mitt: "I'm not surprised to hear that, but I'm not familiar with it." Turns it into an overall "simplify government regulations." "I'm actually kind of interested in hearing about the HIPAA regulations you're describing."
Last question: NIH budget. "I haven't put together my final budget yet, but it's something I believe in." "I'd rather have the $ allocated not on politics, but on science." (Is that a dig at Tom Harkin? He's not named...)
Closing remarks. "You can't be the world's military leader and a second-rate economy. The Soviet Union tried that." First war reference at the very end: citing Shimon Peres in saying the US is the only war winner who doesn't take land. "My campaign is about keeping America strong." He wraps at 10:38. Press avail forthcoming.
Romney's still handshaking after the speech at 10:48. One person asks about dental; Mitt says his plan is "not a dental plan." Questioner notes many people come to ER's with just a toothache. I catch the introducer, Dr. Hunter, and give him free rein with the "why's he your guy" question." Hunter says he's brilliant and has succeeded at everything he's done, gov't and private sector.
11:01 and press time done. A good third of the questions are horse race based and focused on Mike Huckabee. Romney's answers indicate the sparring points will be immigration and taxes. Paraphrasing: Huckabee says he raised taxes in a fiscal crisis; I had a fiscal crisis and I solved it the right way by cutting spending. He paints a bright face on the polls: "As (Huckabee)'s picked up support, I haven't lost any," and "I hope I fall in the top three" in Iowa.
Other horse race goodies: NH Sen. Judd Gregg's comment that IA grows corn and NH chooses presidents "sounds like a New Hampshire Senator to me, and I don't subscribe to that," as he pledges his love for all things Iowan.
Just an observation: in both the Q and A and the press I hear more variations of "I don't know" than from other candidates. Does this reflect an underlying knowledge base issue, or does he just deflect and steer questions differently than others?
As for health care -- "every couple days we have another message," he says, which seems very Reagan-style -- he says the other leading Republicans who've discussed health care (Giuliani and McCain) have similar private based visions, but his plan has been done and is more detailed especially on the funding end.