By Alicia M. Cohn and Jonathan Easley - 07/11/12 03:20 PM EDT
Mitt Romney was booed on Wednesday at the NAACP for vowing to repeal President Obama's signature healthcare law.
"I will reduce government spending," Romney told the civil rights group during an address at their national convention in Houston. "Our high level of debt slows GDP growth and that means fewer jobs. If our goal is jobs, we must, must stop spending over a trillion dollars more than we earn. To do this, I will eliminate expensive non-essential programs like ObamaCare."
“I say again, if our priority is jobs, and that’s my priority, that’s something I’d change,” Romney said, referring to a study indicating that the legislation makes employers less likely to hire.
“You know, there was a survey of the Chamber of Commerce. They carried out a survey of their members, about 1,500 surveyed. They asked them what effect that ‘ObamaCare’ would have on their plans, and three quarters of them said that it made them less likely to hire people.”
“I’d replace with something that provides to people something that they need in healthcare, which is lower cost, good quality, a capacity to deal with people who have pre-existing conditions, and I’ll put that in place,” he promised. “And I know the president will say he’s going to do those things, but he has not, he will not, he cannot, and his last four years in the White House prove it definitively.”
Obama carried the black vote in a landslide in 2008 and leads Romney 92 percent to 2 among black voters, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released on Wednesday.
Romney acknowledged the historic nature of Obama’s 2008 campaign, in which he became the country’s first black president, but also made the case for his own candidacy, saying the president's policies have made things worse for African-Americans “in almost every way.”
“If equal opportunity in America were an accomplished fact, then a chronically bad economy would be equally bad for everyone,” Romney said. “Instead, it’s worse for African-Americans in almost every way. The unemployment rate, the duration of unemployment, average income and median family wealth are all worse for the black community."
The former governor has made a similar economic pitch to other voting blocs he’s trailing with, such as Hispanics and women. The Romney campaign is hoping that the 14.4 percent unemployment among African-Americans — well above the national average of 8.2 percent — will make them more amenable to Romney’s argument.
“I am running for president because I know that my policies and vision will help hundreds of millions of middle-class Americans of all races, will lift people from poverty, and will help prevent people from becoming poor,” Romney said. “My campaign is about helping the people who need help. The course the president has set has not done that — and will not do that. My course will.”
Romney also emphasized education, which earlier in the primary season he referred to as “the civil rights issue of our era.”
The presumptive GOP nominee said he will “give the parents of every low-income and special-needs student the chance to choose where their child goes to school,” and will link federal education funds to the student, which he said will open the opportunity for children of poor families to attend charter and private schools.
He acknowledged the "venerable" status of the NAACP several times in his speech and said it was an honor to address the group, one he "had not expected."
“I can’t promise that I will agree on every issue, but I do promise that your hospitality to me today will be returned,” Romney said, earning applause and a swell of organ music. He also promised that he would say “yes” if invited back to speak at the convention next year as president, likely a dig at Obama, who is not scheduled to speak to the NAACP conference this year.
Romney noted that Vice President Biden is scheduled to follow him the next day at the convention.
"I just hope the Obama campaign doesn't think you're playing favorites," he joked.
— This story was last updated at 12:14 a.m.