By Fred Bever
For what was expected to be a major policy speech on the thorny issue of health care reform, the event was a pretty low-key affair.
When Florida Gov. and Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush laid out his plan for a post-Obamacare health system on Tuesday, roughly 50 people turned out, many of them associated with the venue — St. Anselm College in New Hampshire.
But at the start, Bush did open with a sharply partisan attack on Democratic candidates Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, whom he condemned for their support of Obamacare and its mandates.
"For the Democrats, this is what they want, this is how they roll," he said. "They like the power of deciding these things from up above. This is their essence and I believe the top-down driven approach is not the one for our country."
Mandates, Bush says, stifle innovation.
Like most Republicans, Bush wants to do away with Obamacare. He objects to its mandate that all Americans carry health coverage or face a tax penalty. He'd get rid of federally-mandated plan designs. He'd give states more control over federal health care assistance programs such as Medicaid.
And while he'd reduce the value of employer health benefits that workers can write off on their income taxes, Bush would also provide a tax credit to encourage the purchase of low-cost catastrophic coverage.
"That should be the national focus," he said. "Making sure that people have catastrophic coverage so their lives are not turned upside-down by an adverse event that could have real devastation for their family."
One member of the audience, former Republican Speaker of the New Hampshire House Donna Sytek, says she appreciated Bush's policy focus — even if it might be tough to get it through right now.
"Among the people who are passionate about policy, they'll be excited. 'Oh, another policy paper is out.' That's a very small number," she said. "He's a lot of substance, and very little sizzle. And right now what gets the attention is the sizzle."
But at this stage of the game that's probably not fatal. So says University of New Hampshire political scientist Dante Scala, who notes that Bush has made several wonkish policy proposals in recent weeks.
"(It's) all part of a larger, comprehensive plan to persuade somewhat conservative and moderate New Hampshire Republican voters, that Bush is a reliable, trustworthy candidate," Scala said.
And Bush is showing his commitment to the first-in-the-nation primary. Over the last week, the Bush campaign has significantly boosted it's television advertising in New Hampshire. And yesterday's health care speech was just the start of a three-day swing through the state.
Further reading: Forbes: The Jeb Bush Health Plan: Five Ways It Differs From What Obama's Done