Romney emphasizes health care reform, green technology innovation at Ogden town hall

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Senator Mitt Romney speaks with the editorial board of the Salt Lake Tribune on Wed. Aug. 21, 2019.

Ogden • Sen. Mitt Romney isn’t sure why climate change became a partisan issue, he thinks each state will have to make it’s own laws on gun ownership, and while he’s not familiar with the details of Utah’s recent legislation on abortion, the country as a whole is limited by the decisions of the Supreme Court.

He mostly agrees with President Donald Trump on policy, but — repeating a well-rehearsed line from his 2018 campaign — he’ll speak out against any statements by Trump that are highly divisive, misogynistic, racist or otherwise harmful to the country.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” the Utah Republican said Tuesday. “I hope it doesn’t happen again.”

Those comments came during a polite, 60-minute town hall at Weber State University on Tuesday evening, during which Utah’s junior senator — and former Republican presidential nominee — largely avoided diving into controversial topics while emphasizing his personal priorities.

The state should manage its currently federal public lands, he said, immigration should be merit-based and the national debt and deficit must be reduced.

“Every year we keep borrowing more than we take in,” Romney said. “That represents a real threat to our national security and a real concern, I think, to coming generations.”

Romney spent the most time on the subject of health care, a topic he returned to frequently on his own or when prompted by questions from the audience of roughly 150 residents.

He said there’s a general consensus that Americans pay too much for health care, particularly for prescription drugs, and that he supports legislation on billing transparency and requiring pharmaceutical companies to set internationally consistent pricing.

“Why should the U.S. citizens have to pay for all the research and the prices everywhere else are so much lower?” Romney said.

But Medicare for All would be a step backward, Romney said, forcing patients to navigate a single government bureaucracy and depriving them of the options of the private sector.

“It’s bad enough having to deal with insurance companies,” Romney said. “But at least with insurance companies, if you don’t like the one you’re with you can find another one.”

Members of the audience — who were asked to raise their hands and wait for a microphone when called upon — asked Romney to weigh in on gun control, marijuana, border wall construction and the ability of Trump to represent the Republican Party.

One man drew applause for his question on climate change, expressing frustration that conservative members of Congress are reluctant to address the issue.

“How do you get enough Republicans to make meaningful legislation in our lifetimes so that our grandchildren won’t be roasting to death?” the man asked.

Romney responded that the planet is clearly warming, threatening the snowpack that provides drinking water to Utahns and indicating “tough times” ahead for the Intermountain West. He also said the issue is urgent, requiring action sooner rather than later.

“In 12 years, the decision has been made for us,” Romney said. “At 12 years, they believe, it’s a point of no return.”

But he added that the U.S. is not able to solve the problem alone, as other countries’ residents will add to global carbon emissions as they attain the lifestyle and amenities that Americans already enjoy.

Romney said he is “looking at” carbon taxing as a potential approach, but for now he supports investing in research that could lead to technological breakthroughs.

“I’m trying to find ways to encourage innovation that will be so compelling that India, China, Brazil will do that, because it will be lower cost than the other alternatives,” Romney said.

The town hall’s only heated exchange occurred near the end of the event, during a question on medical benefits for members of the armed services. Orana Paullus described her frustrations with trying to get help for her husband, then pushed back at Romney as he first tried to direct her to his office staff and then when he asked her to let him answer and move on to other questions.

“I can do nothing more than have you talk to my office,” Romney said. “I can’t resolve it for you right here in this room.”

Paullus said she would hold Romney accountable if he failed to follow up on her concerns.

“That’s fine,” Romney said, before asking another member of the audience to ask their question.