All-but-declared GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney shot back at President Barack Obama today for his increasingly frequent words of praise for the health care reform law Romney put in place as governor of Massachusetts.
"He does me the great favor of saying that I was the inspiration for his plan," Romney said at a speech in Las Vegas. "If that's the case, why didn't you call me? Why didn't you ask what was wrong? Why didn't you ask if this was an experiment, what worked and what didn't?"
He continued, "And I'd have told him, 'What you're doing, Mr. President, is going to bankrupt us.' We can't spend more money."
As he prepares to launch a bid for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination, Romney has walked a fine -- and frequently awkward -- line on the issue of health care, defending the law he signed in Massachusetts, but emphasizing that, if elected, he would do away with the national reforms that represent a signature achievement of the Obama administration.
Romney said today that if elected, on his first day in office he would "grant a waiver for all 50 states on Obamacare and then go work to get it repealed."
At the speech before the Republican Jewish Coalition, a Washington, D.C.-based interest group, Romney called the Massachusetts law "an experiment" that "hasn't worked perfectly."
"We, as a state, took on a state problem," Romney said. "I would never impose something that we did for our state in other states."
Romney did not turn to the issue of health care until a question-and-answer session, and he used his remarks to offer a far-reaching critique of Obama's domestic agenda and what he described as a "wandering foreign policy."
Romney referred to the ongoing unrest in the Middle East and North Africa, saying that it could either be "one of the worst things to happen in the last 50 years" or "one of the most positive developments."
He did not specifically weigh in on American involvement in Libya, but accused the president of failing to understand "that not all the leaders of the world have common interests" with the United States.
He pronounced himself "distressed" by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent use of the word "reformer" to describe Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"We are not like them, and we don't have common interests with them," Romney said, referring to oppressive leaders around the globe. "We have common interests with people who seek and love freedom."
Romney's speech today was part of a two-day pre-campaign swing through Nevada, an early state on the presidential nominating calendar. It was also his first major public address in nearly a month.
On Friday he toured a North Las Vegas neighborhood hit hard by home foreclosures.
"It breaks your heart," he said. "Unemployment is not a statistic; unemployment is real pain and sorrow in the lives of a lot of people."
On domestic matters, Romney acknowledged that Obama "did not create the financial crisis" he inherited upon taking office, but accused Obama of "delegating it to [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid."
"Ours is the party of opportunity," Romney said, "and theirs is the party of handouts."
Another member of the audience today prodded the former governor to look ahead to 2012, asking him if he was ready to engage in the "pit bull" style politics of a presidential race.
"We'll battle good and hard," Romney assured. "I will take him head on and aggressively if I were nominee."
And he said, as he has before, that this time around he might have a better shot at the White House,
"If I had been the nominee," in 2008, Romney said, "I'd have been the guy who lost to Barack Obama."