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Nov. 15 (Bloomberg) -- Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman suggested that Mitt Romney is a phony who is “pandering” to their party’s primary voters.
“When you’ve been on both sides of all the key issues of the day, then that gets to the heart and soul of whether you’ve got believability,” Huntsman said of Romney in an interview with Al Hunt on Bloomberg Television yesterday.
“When the 2012 election cycle, to my mind, is going to be about enhancing and promoting trust in the political system, I don’t think you’re electable under those conditions,” said Huntsman, who trails Romney in primary polling.
A super political action committee, supporting Huntsman in New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary election in January, started running ads yesterday that say voters shouldn’t support “some phony who tells me one thing and you another.”
Asked whether he thought those ads were referring to Romney, Huntsman said, “it sure sounds like him.”
Huntsman, a former governor of Utah and ambassador to China in the Obama administration, said Romney’s threat to take the leading Asian economic power to the World Trade Organization for manipulating its currency is “total pandering.”
During a national security debate of the Republican candidates at Wofford College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, on Nov. 12, Romney said he would get China’s attention to stop attacks on U.S. computer networks by taking the country to the WTO for manipulating its currency to artificially lower prices and run a trade surplus.
“And that allows us to apply selectively tariffs where we believe they are stealing our intellectual property, hacking into our computers or artificially lowering their prices and killing American jobs,” Romney said.
Huntsman countered by saying that a confrontation with the world’s second-largest economy would also hurt the U.S.
“So you take it to the WTO,” Huntsman said on Bloomberg Television yesterday. “They’re going to bring a countersuit and you’re wasting a whole lot of time on an issue that is getting no traction,” he said. China will retaliate with counter- tariffs, he said, “and you got a trade war.”
A trade war would be “killing small business and exporters in this country,” Huntsman said.
On health care, Huntsman said he expects the U.S. Supreme Court to spell “the end of Obamacare,” after agreeing to review the constitutionality of President Barack Obama’s medical-care overhaul.
The law, named the Affordable Care Act, would expand coverage to an estimated 32 million Americans who lack insurance, largely through an expansion of the federal-state Medicaid program for the poor and by setting up exchanges, in which consumers will be able to buy insurance.
Romney, during his four-year tenure as governor of Massachusetts, signed a universal health-care law for the state in 2006.
“That’ll be probably the end of Massachusetts care, Romneycare,” Huntsman said of Romney’s plan.
The Supreme Court yesterday said it will consider whether Congress exceeded its authority by requiring all Americans to either acquire insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The court will hear arguments in March 2012. A decision in the case is likely in late June, months before the November elections.
On taxes, Huntsman defended his overhaul plan, saying it’s fair to top earners as well as the working poor. Those making $1 million could get a tax cut of roughly $104,000 and those earning $30,000 an increase of $2,600 because Huntsman would end the earned income tax credit, according to estimates of sample families by The Tax Institute for Bloomberg.
“Rates come down and it is based on the premise that this country needs to grow,” Huntsman said. “You got to start with a proposal that will stand the test of scrutiny in Congress. And I believe mine can.”
Huntsman’s plan would reduce the top income-tax rate to 23 percent, outweighing the loss of all deductions and credits for high earners. His plan also exempts investment income from taxes. Middle-income families would receive a tax cut, especially if they have investment income, because of his lower tax rates.
On Afghanistan, Huntsman has called for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, a minority view among Republican presidential candidates. Still, he wouldn’t say whether the U.S. has won in Afghanistan, where troops have been fighting since 2001.
“We’ve run the Taliban from power,” Huntsman said. “We’ve uprooted and dismantled al-Qaeda. They’re still around, but they’re no longer where they were. We’ve had free elections, 2004. We’ve killed Osama bin Laden.”
“This is time to stand up and tell the American people that our efforts there over 10 years have been worthwhile,” he said.
--With assistance from Greg Stohr and Richard Rubin in Washington. Editors: Robin Meszoly, Jim Rubin.
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