GOP presidential hopefuls hammer health care

DES MOINES – Three high-profile potential presidential candidates told a gathering of hundreds of conservative Republicans on Saturday that most Americans agree with their values and voters’ opposition to President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul plan could pave the way for their party to make historic gains in next year’s election.

Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann got the noisiest reception when she told activists that voters are both ready to overturn the health care law and oust Obama next year.

“The ultimate arrogance, in my opinion, is Obama-care,” Bachmann said. “That’s why I am so absolutely confident in 2012. Americans have made the decision that we’re going to take out country back.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour also spoke at the gathering organized by U.S. Rep. Steve King, who represents a district in western Iowa. King said he put together the event to help conservatives shape the debate as Republicans begin looking for a candidate to run against Obama.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain was scheduled to speak later Saturday.

“We need to take this nation to the next level of its destiny,” King told the crowd of about 500. “You can shape that destiny.”

Gingrich and Barbour insisted that most Americans agree with their conservative values, and Gingrich said the 2012 election would provide a chance to end the “domination of the left and move this country back to the center-right.”

“There is a huge difference between Obama and the left and 80 percent of the American people,” he said.

Barbour dismissed suggestions that Obama has moved to the center in preparation for next year’s election. Pointing to the president’s proposed budget, he said, “It calls for spending to go up, it calls for the deficit to go up.”

The governor said Republicans can win next year if their candidates stay focused on the key issues of health care and balancing the federal budget and don’t get distracted by arguments about personality.

“What is important to us is to have a new president,” said Barbour. “This election needs to be about policy.”

Bachmann said the effort to repeal the health care reform law has created a strong tide of support for Republicans positioning themselves for next year’s election.

“It’s never gone below a majority of Americans who want to see Obama-care repealed,” Bachmann said. “This is, I believe, the greatest power grab that I have ever seen.”

The stakes in next year’s election are enormous, she added.

“What we are going to determine together, here in Iowa, is quite frankly whether we will pass the American Dream on to the next generation,” Bachmann said.

The candidates focused on criticizing Obama and Democrats and made little effort to find differences with each other.

Gingrich said his experience as House speaker showed he understood how to manage federal spending.

“I helped balance a budget for four straight years,” he said.

He departed briefly from the event’s mostly domestic theme to attack Obama’s handling of the air strikes in Libya. He ridiculed Obama for consulting with the Arab League and the United Nations, but not Congress, before making a decision to attack.

Gingrich said he would not have approved the air strikes but with that decision made, all possible force should be used to win the conflict as quickly as possible.

“Once you get involved, you put on the pressure and you win quickly,” he said.

Mike Glover/The Associated Press