Mitt Romney on Sunday said he would retain elements of President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, blamed Republicans as much as Democrats for the "mistake" of agreeing to automatic cuts in military spending to avoid a fiscal crisis and acknowledged that Obama's national security strategy has made America in "some ways safer."
The remarks, made in an interview with NBC's "Meet the Press," seemed to mark the emergence of a less openly partisan, more general-election-oriented Republican nominee, who is intent on appealing to middle-of-the-road voters who have not yet made up their minds. At one point, Romney said that a speech on Thursday by the country's last Democratic president, Bill Clinton, had "elevated" the party's convention in Charlotte, N.C.
When the show's host, David Gregory, asked Romney what elements of Obama's health care program he would maintain, Romney said he would still require that insurance companies cover those with pre-existing conditions, just as the president's law has.
"I'm not getting rid of all of health care reform," Romney said, while emphasizing that he planned to replace the president's plan with his own. "There are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place. One is to make sure that those with pre-existing conditions can get coverage."
Romney, whose standing in several national polls improved slightly after the Republican convention in Tampa, Fla., said,
"People got to see Ann and hear our story," Romney said, referring to this wife. "And the result of that is I'm better known, for better or for worse."
With the Federal Reserve contemplating actions to stimulate the economy, Romney registered his disapproval, saying that he did not think that "easing monetary policy is going to make a significant difference in the job market right now."
Romney, who has hammered the president over rising federal debt, said he would seek to balance the budget within eight to 10 years, potentially after his own presidency ends. Any attempt to do so in a first term, Romney said, would have "a dramatic impact on the economy. Too dramatic."
Romney said he disagreed with a compromise made last year by the White House and congressional Republicans that called for automatic cuts to military spending as a way to force a deal on deficit reduction.
"I thought it was a mistake on the part of the White House to propose it. I think it was a mistake for Republicans to go along with it," he said.
The interview provided another forum in which Romney was questioned about the omission in his convention speech of any mention of the war in Afghanistan. Romney seemed defensive when Gregory asked him about criticism from the conservative magazine The Weekly Standard -- and from others on both sides of the ideological spectrum -- that he did speak about the conflict in accepting his party's nomination at the Republican convention in Tampa.
"The Weekly Standard took you to task in your convention speech for not mentioning the war in Afghanistan one time," Gregory asked. "Was that a mistake with so much sacrifice in two wars over the period of this last decade?"
Romney answered, "You know, I find it interesting that people are curious about mentioning words in a speech as opposed to policy," noting that he had mentioned the war in Afghanistan just before the convention, in a speech to the American Legion. "I went to the American Legion," he said, "and spoke with our veterans there and described my policy as it relates to Afghanistan and other foreign policy and our military."
Pressed on his social views, Romney reiterated that he did not think that taxpayers should have to pay for abortions and that he wanted the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Reminded that he had once called himself a "severe" conservative, Romney seemed to play down that description. "I am as conservative as the Constitution," he said.
In an appearance in Melbourne, Fla., on Sunday, Obama, picking up where former President Bill Clinton left off, said the budget proposals offered by Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, do not add up.
The president was quick to jump on appearances by his Republican rivals on the Sunday morning talk shows, in which they were asked separately what loopholes they would close to pay for their proposed tax cuts. Neither of the men answered the question.
"President Clinton told us the single thing missing from my opponents' proposal was arithmetic," Obama told a rally here to a burst of applause.
"When my opponents were asked about it today," Obama said, "it was like two plus one equals five."