Health care took a prime role in the Republican presidential candidates’ debate in Las Vegas Tuesday. Former Sen. Rick Santorum led off with a strong criticism of former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney’s role in revamping the state’s health care system. Romney defended his position hard and noted that other Republicans, including former House Speaker Newt Gingrich who is also running for president, had previously endorsed an individual mandate. Also, Rep. Michele Bachmann pointed to the Obama Administration’s freeze of the CLASS Act as evidence that the law can be repealed.
Here is a transcript of the exchange between the Republican candidates at the Las Vegas debate Tuesday. The moderator is Anderson Cooper of CNN. The full debate transcript can be found on CNN.
SANTORUM: The final point I would make to Governor Romney, you just don’t have credibility, Mitt, when it comes to repealing Obamacare. You are — you are — your plan was the basis for Obamacare. Your consultants helped Obama craft Obamacare. And to say that you’re going to repeal it, you just — you have no track record on that that — that we can trust you that you’re going to do that.
COOPER: Governor Romney, 30 seconds.
SANTORUM: You don’t.
ROMNEY: You know, this I think is either our eighth or ninth debate. And each chance I’ve — I’ve had to talk about Obamacare, I’ve made it very clear, and also in my book. And at the time, by the way, I crafted the plan, in the last campaign, I was asked, is this something that you would have the whole nation do? And I said, no, this is something that was crafted for Massachusetts. It would be wrong to adopt this as a nation.
SANTORUM: That’s not what you said.
ROMNEY: You’re — you’re shaking — you’re shaking your head.
SANTORUM: Governor, no, that’s not what you said.
ROMNEY: That happens — to happens to be…
SANTORUM: It was in your book that it should be for everybody.
PERRY: You took it out of your book.
SANTORUM: You took it out of your book.
ROMNEY: Hey, his turn. His turn, OK, and mine.
ROMNEY: I’ll tell you what? Why don’t you let me speak?
SANTORUM: You’re allowed — you’re allowed to change — you’re allowed to change…
ROMNEY: Rick, you had your chance. Let me speak.
SANTORUM: You can’t change the facts.
ROMNEY: Rick, you had your chance. Let me speak.
SANTORUM: You’re out of time. You’re out of time.
COOPER: He ate into your time.
ROMNEY: I haven’t had a chance to respond yet, because you were interrupting the entire time I was trying to speak.
ROMNEY: Let me make it very clear.
COOPER: I’ll give another 20 seconds.
ROMNEY: And — look — look, we’ll let everybody take a look at the fact checks. I was interviewed by Dan Balz. I was in interviews in this debate stage with you four years ago. I was asked about the Massachusetts plan, was it something I’d impose on the nation? And the answer is absolutely not.
It was something crafted for a state. And I’ve said time and again, Obamacare is bad news. It’s unconstitutional. It costs way too much money, a trillion dollars. And if I’m president of the United States, I will repeal it for the American people.
COOPER: All right. Senator Santorum?
SANTORUM: Mitt, the governor of Massachusetts just is coming forward saying we have to pick up the job left undone by Romneycare, which is doing something about cutting health care costs.
What you did is exactly what Barack Obama did: focused on the wrong problem. Herman always says you’ve got to find the right problem. Well, the right problem is health care costs. What you did with a top-down, government-run program was focus on the problem of health care access. You expanded the pool of insurance without controlling costs. You’ve blown a hole in the budget up there. And you authored in Obamacare, which is going to blow a hole in the budget of this country.
COOPER: Governor Romney, I’m going to give you 30 seconds.
ROMNEY: I’m — I’m sorry, Rick, that you find so much to dislike in my plan, but I’ll tell you, the people in Massachusetts like it by about a 3-1 margin.
And we dealt with a challenge that we had, a lot of people that were expecting government to pay their way. And we said, you know what? If people have the capacity to care for themselves and pay their own way, they should.
Now, I can tell you this, it’s absolutely right that there’s a lot that needs to be done. And I didn’t get the job done in Massachusetts in getting the health care costs down in this country. It’s something I think we have got to do at the national level. I intend to do that.
But one thing is for sure. What Obama has done is imposed on the nation a plan that will not work, that must be repealed. And when it comes to knowledge about health care and how to get our health care system working, I may not be a doctor like this one right over here, but I sure understand how to bring the cost of health care down and how to also make sure that we have a system that works for the American people.
SANTORUM: It didn’t do it. It didn’t do it.
COOPER: Speaker Gingrich, you’ve also been very critical of Mitt Romney’s plan not only on Obamacare, but his plan to lower the capital gains tax only on those earning under $200,000.
GINGRICH: I want to say on health for a minute — OK, let’s just focus. “The Boston Herald” today reported that the state of Massachusetts is fining a local small business $3,000 because their $750-a-month insurance plan is inadequate, according to the bureaucrats in Boston.
Now, there’s a fundamental difference between trying to solve the problems of this country from the top down and trying to create environments in which doctors and patients and families solve the problem from the bottom up.
And candidly, Mitt, your plan ultimately, philosophically, it’s not Obamacare, and that’s not a fair charge. But your plan essentially is one more big government, bureaucratic, high-cost system, which candidly could not have been done by any other state because no other state had a Medicare program as lavish as yours, and no other state got as much money from the federal government under the Bush administration for this experiment. So there’s a lot as big government behind Romneycare. Not as much as Obamacare, but a heck of a lot more than your campaign is admitting.
COOPER: Governor Romney, 30 seconds.
ROMNEY: Actually, Newt, we got the idea of an individual mandate from you.
GINGRICH: That’s not true. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.
ROMNEY: Yes, we got it from you, and you got it from the Heritage Foundation and from you.
GINGRICH: Wait a second. What you just said is not true. You did not get that from me. You got it from the Heritage Foundation.
ROMNEY: And you never supported them?
GINGRICH: I agree with them, but I’m just saying, what you said to this audience just now plain wasn’t true.
ROMNEY: OK. Let me ask, have you supported in the past an individual mandate?
GINGRICH: I absolutely did with the Heritage Foundation against Hillarycare.
ROMNEY: You did support an individual mandate?
ROMNEY: Oh, OK. That’s what I’m saying. We got the idea from you and the Heritage Foundation.
GINGRICH: OK. A little broader.
COOPER: He still has time. Let him finish.
ROMNEY: I get a little time here.
Number two, we don’t have a government insurance plan. What we do is rely on private insurers, and people — 93 percent of our people who are already insured, nothing changed. For the people who didn’t have insurance, they get private insurance, not government insurance.
And the best way to make markets work is for people to be able to buy their own products from private enterprises. What we did was right for our state, according to the people in our state. And the great thing about a state solution to a state issue is, if people don’t like it, they could change it.
Now, there are a lot of things.
COOPER: Congresswoman Bachmann.
BACHMANN: Anderson, I think it has to be stated that Obamacare is so flat-out unpopular, that even the Obama administration chose to reject part of Obamacare last Friday, when they tried to throw out the CLASS Act, which is the long-term care function.
Secretary Sebelius, who is the head of Health and Human Services, reported that the government can’t even afford that part and has to throw it out. And now the administration is arguing with itself.
When even the Obama administration wants to repeal this bill, I think we’re going to win this thing. We’re going to repeal it! And I will!
COOPER: We’ve got to take a quick break. We will continue this discussion on the other side.
We have a long way to go. We’ll be right back.
COOPER: And welcome back to the continuing debate. We got a Twitter question. We ended talking about medicine, Obamacare. We actually have a Twitter question about it. It was a question left at CNN debate.
If Obama’s health plan is bad for the U.S., what is the alternative, and how will you implement it?
Congressman Paul, is there any aspect of Obamacare that you would like to keep, whether it’s keeping kids to stay on their parents’ insurance until they’re 26 or no pre-existing conditions?
PAUL: Really not, because he’s just adding on more government. There’s been a lot of discussion about medicine, but it seems to be talking about which kind of government management is best. Our problem is we have too much. We’ve had it for 30, 40 years. We have Medicare. We have prescription drug programs. We have Medicaid.
And what we need — I mean, there’s a pretty good support up here for getting rid of Obamacare, because it’s a Democratic proposal, and we want to opt out. I think we’d all agree on this.
But if you want better competition and better health care, you should allow the American people to opt out of government medicine. And…
And the way to do this is to not de-emphasize the medical savings account, but let people opt out, pay their bills, get back to the doctor-patient relationship. There is inflation worked into it. When a government gets involved in an industry, prices always go up. We have tort laws to deal with. And we need more competition in medicine.
But the most important thing is letting the people have control of their money and getting it out of the hands of the third party. As soon as you go to the government, the lobbyists line up, the drug companies line up, these insurance companies line up. And even with Obamacare, the industries, the corporations get behind it and affect the outcome, and already insurance premiums are going up.
COOPER: Herman Cain, same question. Is there any aspect of so- called Obamacare that — that you would keep?
CAIN: No. I think we all agree that Obamacare must be repealed because it is a disaster. And the more we learn about it and the more time goes along, the more we see. We’re all in agreement with that.
But here’s where I would start in answering that question. It’s called H.R. 3400. This was introduced back in 2009, but you didn’t hear a lot of talk about it. Instead of government being imposed on — on our system, it imposes — it basically passes market-centered, market-driven, patient-centered sort of reforms to allow association health plans, to allow loser pay laws, to allow insurance products to be sold across state lines, and a whole list of other things. So that’s a great place to start.
It allows the patient and the doctors to make the decisions, not a bureaucrat. I’d start with HR-3400.
COOPER: Governor Perry, in the last debate, Governor Romney pointed out that Texas has one of the highest rates of uninsured children in the country, over one million kids. You did not get an opportunity to respond to that. What do you say? How do you explain that?
PERRY: Well, we’ve got one of the finest health care systems in the world in Texas. As a matter of fact, the Houston, Texas, Medical Center, there’s more doctors and nurses that go to work there every morning than any other place in America. But the idea that you can’t have access to health care, some of the finest health care in the world — but we have a 1,200-mile border with Mexico, and the fact is we have a huge number of illegals that are coming into this country.