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Romney, Santorum, Others Call For Medicare ‘Premium Support’ In New Hampshire GOP Debate

While health care issues did not take up much of Sunday morning’s debate, the candidates agreed that Medicare should be a Rep. Paul-Ryan-style “premium support” system and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney said that, in the future, he believes wealthy Medicare recipients should have to pay more for the program.

Here is a complete transcript of the parts of the debate that included some discussion of health care:

DAVID GREGORY: So Governor Huntsman, name three areas where Americans will feel real pain in order to balance the budget?

JON HUNTSMAN:  Well, I would have to say that I agree with the Ryan plan.  I think I’m the only one standing up here who has embraced the Ryan plan.  It’s a very aggressive approach to taking about 6.2 — $6.2 trillion out of the budget over 10 years.  And it looks at everything.  And what I like about it is it says there will be no sacred cows.

JON HUNTSMAN: Medicare won’t be a sacred cow.  Department of Defense won’t be a sacred cow.  As president of the United States I’m gonna stand up and I’m gonna say, “We are where we are.  24 percent spending — as a percentage of GDP.  We’ve gotta move to 19 percent —

DAVID GREGORY: Three programs that will make Americans feel pain, sir?

JON HUNTSMAN: Well, let me just say on– on– on entitlements.  Across the board, I will tell the upper income category in this country that there will be means testing.  There are a lot of people in this nation–

DAVID GREGORY: Social Security —

JON HUNTSMAN: — who don’t need some of the benefits?

DAVID GREGORY: — and Medicare?

JON HUNTSMAN: Absolutely.  Absolutely.  And also I’m not gonna tie Department of Defense spending some percentage of GDP.  I’m gonna tie it to a strategy that protects the American people.  And if we think that we can’t find efficiencies and cuts in the Department of Defense budget, then we are crazy.

DAVID GREGORY: Senator Santorum, same question.  Three programs that would make — would have to be cut to make Americans feel pain, to sacrifice, if we’re gonna balance the budget.

RICK SANTORUM:  I’ve gotta agree with go — Governor Huntsman, the means test.  And I talked about that in Hollis yesterday.  We had about 1,200 people there.  And I walked through and talked about how we have to make sure that — we’re not gonna burden future generations with a Social Security program that’s underfunded.  It’s underfunded right now.

And– we have to take those who have– that have been successful, who are seniors, who have a tremendous amount of wealth and we oughta reduce benefits. It — it makes no sense for folks who are struggling right now to pay their payroll tax, which is the biggest tax, it’s a tax on labor, it makes us uncompetitive, and the idea that someone to the left would (UNINTEL) to raise those taxes to make labor even more uncompetitive for those working people who are trying to get a job, to subsidize high income seniors, doesn’t make any sense to me.

Foods stamps is another place.  We gotta block grant and send it back to the states, just like I did on welfare reform.  Do the same thing with Medicare.  Those three programs.  We gotta — and — and — and including — housing programs, block grant them, send it back to the states, require work and put a time limit.  You do those three things, we will help — take these programs, which are now dependency programs which people are continually dependent upon, and you take them into transitional programs to help people move out of poverty.

DAVID GREGORY: Speaker Gingrich, on the issue of Medicare– when you were on Meet The Press— earlier in the year, you had talked about what– Paul Ryan was talking about as a step too far, which is moving seniors onto a premium support, or a voucher program, depending on how you phrase it.  As you know, Senator Santorum thinks that current seniors– should be moved off of that program into premium support or a voucher program.  Do you agree with doing it that quickly and making current seniors– bear the brunt of that?

NEWT GINGRICH: Well, the fact is that the– Ryan Wyden bill, which was just introduced recently, actually incorporates allowing people to choose and allows them to stay in traditional Medicare with the premium support model, or go to new methods.  And I think it’s a substantial improvement.  It allows for a transition in Medicare in a way that makes sense.

But David, you know, I– I find it fascinating that very, very highly paid Washington commentators and Washington analysts love the idea of pain.  What– who’s gonna be in pain?  The duty of the president is to find a way to manage the federal government so the primary pain is on changing the bureaucracy.

On– on theft alone we could save $100 billion a year in Medicaid and Medicare if the federal government were competent.  That’s a trillion dollars over 10 years and the only people in pain would be crooks.  So I think a (APPLAUSE) sound approach is to actually improve the government, not punish the American people because of a failure of the political class to have any sense of cleverness.


DAVID GREGORY: And– before the break– we were talking about Medicare.  Paul Ryan, Senator Santorum had a plan where he’d like to move– seniors off, give them a voucher or premium support and then they would– take care of their health care from there.  There’s a lot of debate about that.  And I mentioned you said seniors should be affected right now.  55-plus– have them affected right now, which has been somewhat controversial.  You wanna respond to that?

RON PAUL:  Well, you know, I hear this all the time when I was — have been campaigning around — the state.  You know, we should have the same kind of health care the members of Congress have.  Well, that’s pretty much what Paul Ryan’s plan is.  That the — the members of Congress have a premium support model.  So does every other federal employee.

I mean it works very well.  As — you know, the- – the federal government has a liability.  They put — put money out there.  And then if you want, you — you have — about this thick.  If you’re an employee in Washington, D.C. it — got a — whole bunch of different plans to choose from and you have all sorts of options available to you.  You want a more expensive plan, you pay more of a co-insurance.  If you want a less expensive plan, you don’t.

But here’s the fundamental difference between Barack Obama and — and everybody up here.  It’s whether you believe people can be free to make choices or whether you have to make decisions for them.  And I believe seniors, just like every other American, should be free to make the choices in their health care plan that’s best for them.

MITT ROMNEY: Well, who knows more about tax policy?  I’m not sure that we’re gonna choose from the two of them, but I can tell you this.  The right course for America is not to raise taxes on Americans.  I understand that President Obama and people of his political persuasion would like to take more money from the American people.  And they want to do that so they can continue to grow government.

The answer for America is not to grow government. It is to shrink dro — government.  We’ve been going — over the last 20, 30, 40 years, government keeps growing at a faster rate relative to inflation.  We have got to stop the extraordinary spending in this country.  That’s why I put — a plan that (APPLAUSE) reduces government spending.  I’d cut — I’d cut programs, a whole series of programs.  By — by the way, the number one to cut is Obamacare.  That saves $95 billion a year.  (APPLAUSE).

Return — this, as Rick indicated, return to states a whole series of programs, food stamps, housing vouchers, Medicaid and then set how much goes to them.  And finally, with regards with entitlement, in the entitlement reform area, I do not want to change Medicare and Social Security for current retirees.  But for younger people coming up they have to recognize that in the future higher income people will receive less payments in the premium support program.

DAVID GREGORY: But Governor Romney, on this economic question, you blame President Obama for the jobs crisis, but when you look at the data, and a positive trend line, he still only gets the blame and none of the credit.  How come?

MITT ROMNEY: Actually, I don’t blame him for the recession and for the decline, what I blame him for is having it go on so long and going so deep.  And having a recovery that’s been so tough it– businesses I talk to all over the country that would normally be hiring people are not hiring.  And I asked them why.  And they say because they look at the policies of this administration and they feel they’re under attack.

When you have an administration that tries to raise taxes and has on businesses.  When it puts in place Obamacare that’s gonna raise the cost of health care for businesses.  When they stack the National Labor Relations Board with labor stooges, which means that the policies relating to — to labor are now gonna change dramatically in a direction they find uncomfortable.  When you have Obama Care — that — tha t– places more mandates on them.  When you — when you have — Dodd-Frank, which makes it harder for community banks to make loans.

All these things collectively create the — a reality of a president who has been anti-investment, anti-jobs, anti-business.  And people feel that.  And if you want to get this country going again, you have to recognize that the role of government is not just to catch the bad guys, important as that is.  It’s also to encourage the good guys.

DAVID GREGORY: Senator Santorum, Governor Perry, you– you called the president a socialist.  I wonder– Senator Santorum, when you voted for a new prescription drug benefit that did not have a funding mechanism, were you advancing socialism?

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I– I said repeatedly that– we should have had a funding mechanism.  And– it’s one of those things that I had a very tough vote, as you know.  In that bill, we had health savings accounts, something I’d been fighting for 15 years, to transform the private sector health care system into a more consumer, bottom-up– way of doing it.  We also had Medicare Advantage to transform the entire Medicare system into– Medicare Advantage is basically a premium support type model.


DAVID GREGORY: So advancing socialism, though, that’s the point.

RICK SANTORUM: Well, I– I– I think I’m just answering your question.  Maybe– maybe we’re not communicating well.  But I just talked about– that– medical– health savings account is an anti-socialistic idea to try to build a bottom-up, consumer-based economy– in health care.  The same thing with Medicare Advantage.  And we also structured the Medicare, part D benefit, to be a premium support model, as a way of trying to transition Medicare.  So there were a lot of good things in that bill.  There was one really bad thing.  We didn’t pay for it.  We should have paid for it.  And that was a mistake.

DAVID GREGORY: Do you have another follow up on that?

ANDY HILLER: No, I’m gonna switch to Congressman Paul.  And I’m gonna say many Americans, particularly Democrats, believe that health care is a right.  In your opinion, what services are all Americans entitled to expect to get from government?

RON PAUL: Entitlements are not rights.  Rights mean you have a right– (APPLAUSE) entitle — rights mean you have a right to your life and you have a right to your — your liberty, and you should have a right to keep the fruits of your labor.  And this is quite a bit different, but earlier on — there was a little discussion here about gay rights.  I, in a way, don’t like to use those terms, gay rights — women’s rights — minority rights — mon — religious rights.

There’s only one type of right.  It’s your right to your liberty.  And I think it causes — divisiveness, when we see people in groups.  Because for too long we punished groups.  So the answer then was — let’s — let’s relieve them by giving them affirmative action.  So I think both are wrong.  If you think in terms of individuals and protect every single individual, no, they’re not entitled — one group isn’t entitled to take something from b — somebody else.

And — the basic problem here is there’s a lot of good intention to help poor people.  But guess who gets the entitlements in Washington?  The big guys get — the rich people.  They run the entitlement system.  The military industrial complex, the banking system.  Those are the entitlements we should be dealing with.

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