Romney eases stance on health law

With swing votes at stake, he says he would retain parts of 'inefficient' plan

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BOSTON β€” With swing voters in his sights, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is tacking toward the center on health care and defense spending now that he's put his final partisan hurdle behind him and the sprint to Nov. 6 is under way.

Romney said in an interview that aired Sunday that he would retain some popular parts of the 2010 health care law he has pledged to repeal, saying the features he would keep are common-sense measures in what he calls an otherwise costly, inefficient plan.

The former Massachusetts governor also faulted congressional Republicans for going along with the White House on a budget deal that has set up automatic spending cuts that include huge reductions in defense spending β€” a deal his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, helped steer.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama focused Floridians' attention on the Republican ticket's stand on Medicare, an issue that's been more favorable to Democrats.

Romney's campaign dismissed the idea that the comments were a lurch toward the middle now that the Republican convention, the last partisan event of the campaign, has passed, even as Romney was visiting the most competitive states on the election map.

"I'm not getting rid of all of health care reform. Of course, there are a number of things that I like in health care reform that I'm going to put in place," Romney told NBC's "Meet the Press" in an interview taped Friday and Saturday. He cited coverage for people with medical conditions and new insurance marketplaces.

Romney's aides said that was consistent with his previous position that those who haven't had a gap in coverage shouldn't be denied coverage.

But the comments brought renewed attention to the similarities between Obama's plan and the one Romney championed when he was Massachusetts governor, which included protections for health conditions and an individual mandate that the Republican has since railed against.

The GOP nominee, who attended church in Boston before debate practice sessions Sunday, didn't offer specifics for how he'd deal with the affordability of insurance, but suggested competition would help bring down costs. For seniors, Romney has called for restructuring Medicare by giving retirees a government payment that they would use to choose between traditional Medicare and private insurance.

Romney aides dismissed the idea that the candidate's comments about the defense cuts or health care were an effort to appear less partisan with the race for undecided voters now under way.

Spokesman Kevin Madden said Romney was sharper in his criticism of Obama than he was of House Republicans on military cuts. Madden also said calling for the repeal of the 2010 health care law and supporting some of its provisions are consistent.

"Repealing Obamacare is a focus because it costs too much and the taxes and regulations are hurting small business. That's common sense," Madden said. "Affordability and portability of health care insurance aren't partisan issues."

Obama, campaigning for a second day in Florida, tried to move past a weak jobs report Friday and highlight the impact of Romney's proposals on older workers and those nearing retirement.

The president promoted a study showing that future retirees under Romney's plan would pay tens of thousands of dollars more for health care over their retirement period. The report was rejected quickly by Romney's campaign, which faulted Obama for relying on "discredited attacks" and noted the study was conducted by Obama's former adviser.

Obama told about 3,000 supporters in Melbourne, Fla., that if Romney had his way, Americans will pay more so insurers could make more. "No American should have to spend their golden years at the mercy of insurance companies," he said.

In Ohio, another critical battleground, Vice President Joe Biden piled on, mocking Republicans for saying they want to protect Medicare and claiming that under Romney's leadership, benefits would be slashed.

Hoping to put a human face on the issue, Obama ate breakfast at a Florida cafe with two older couples concerned about Medicare costs. But a brief interaction with another patron and Romney supporter underscored what polls show is a persistent problem for Obama with voters who like him personally but question his economic competence.

"I always thought he was a very personable person, nice person," said 73-year-old Bill Terrell of Cocoa, Fla. "I just don't think he's doing a good job on the economy."

In broadcast interviews, Romney and Ryan kept the heat on Obama on the economic front, warning that across-the-board spending cuts set to take effect at the start of 2013 could devastate the defense budget. Half of the cuts are expected to come from the Pentagon if Congress doesn't reach a budget solution in the next few months.

But Romney's attacks on the president for signing the deficit-reduction measure had some collateral damage for his running mate, who as House Budget Committee chairman both voted for and loudly praised the bill that created the trigger for the automatic spending cuts.