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Tempers flare as Santorum, Romney trade barbs, blame for healthcare reform

Tempers flared Wednesday as Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney battled over federal health insurance mandates, with both candidates accusing one another of indirectly paving the way to the president's healthcare reform act.

Rick Santorum provided the first volley, saying the president's insurance plan was based on Romney's efforts in Massachusetts. 

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"The whole reason this issue is alive is the bill you drafted in Massachusetts - Romneycare - which was the model for Obamacare and the government takeover of healthcare," Santorum said, going on to say "the real fundamental issue here is government coercion."

The former senator added that nominating Romney would neutralize the potent health care issue in a general election. 

"It would be a very difficult task for someone who had the model for Obamacare… to be the nominee of our party, it would take it completely off the table," Santorum said.

Romney defended his conservative credentials, noting that just four years ago, Santorum had been convinced that he was far enough to the right.


"You not only endorsed me, you went on Laura Ingraham and said, 'This is the guy who is really conservative and we can trust him,'" Romney said.

He went on to say that Santorum was actually responsible for health care reform package passing for his endorsement of Sen. Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic party.

"The reason we have Obamacare is because the senator you supported over Pat Toomey in Pennsyvania, Arlen Specter… he voted for Obamacare. If you had not supported him, if you had not supported Arlen Specter, we would not have Obamacare, so take a look in the mirror," Romney said.

Santorum quickly hit back, saying Romney's claims of conservative credentials - especially maintaining a balanced budget in Massachusetts - did not mean much.

"You have a constitutional requirement to balance the budget, it's no great shakes. I'd like to see it federally, but don't go around bragging about something you have to do. Michael Dukakis balanced the budget for 10 years, does that make him qualified to be president?" Sanotrum said.

He also justified his support for Specter, saying that he had assured him he would support President Bush's Supreme Court nominees in exchange for his endorsement.

"Every nominee he supported passed because he gave Democrats cover to vote for him and moderate Republicans cover to vote for him… I did the right thing for our country," Santorum said.

The Arizona crowd alternatively cheered and booed as each candidate hit with their punches and stumbled to recover.

Romney ultimately dismissed Santorum's logic as "torturous."

"Supporting Arlen Specter over Pat Toomey - that was a very torturous route," Romney said.

Santorum hit back, laughing at Romney's criticism.

"Just as torturous as six years later blaming me for Obamacare," Santorum said.