Gov. Haley Barbour (R-Miss.) wouldn't openly criticize Mitt Romney Tuesday over Massachusetts's healthcare law, but he did say a similar system wouldn't work in Mississippi.

"If Massachusetts wants that, more power to them, that's their business," Barbour said at a forum on Capitol Hill hosted by the Congressional Health Care Caucus. "We don't want it."

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He added: "Let Mitt have his day. He just announced. Let him have a day."

Romney announced Monday he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. The announcement deflected attention away from the fifth anniversary of the Massachusetts healthcare law, which includes an individual mandate that conservatives dislike.

The Democrats' healthcare reform law contains a similar mandate to the Massachusetts law, which Dems have been drawing attention to in recent days, along with ironically "thanking" the former Massachusetts governor for signing it into law.

Barbour said Democrats weren't showing generosity to Romney.

"Somehow I doubt it's an offhanded, backhanded compliment," he said. "Maybe I'm just gullible."

He noted an individual mandate system wouldn't work in his state.

"It would not be a good system for us, and we would not choose it in Mississippi. And frankly, we oppose the Obama administration trying to force it on us," he said.

Rep. Michael BurgessMichael Clifton BurgessRace heats up for top GOP post on powerful Energy and Commerce Committee Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it MORE (R-Texas), who chairs the health caucus, echoed Barbour's remarks about Romney.

"It's something that Governor Romney is going to have to talk about," he said. "You obviously can't run away from it."

Burgess said healthcare remains an issue on voters' minds. "Oh God, yes," he said. "The biggest criticism I got for voting Friday night for the bridge to get to the next CR was that it didn't defund the implementation of 'Obamacare.'

"That is one of the number one issues on the ground," he added. "And I'm sure my congressional district is not unique about that. People are scared to death of this thing. They're terrified of the amount of money it may spend in 2014" when many of the provisions come online.

Barbour's speech Tuesday was the latest by a potential White House candidate to Burgess's group. Other potential contenders, including Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), have also addressed the group, giving the Texas Republican a chance to take measure of the GOP field.  

Asked about a 2012 endorsement, Burgess said he had been "hoping" Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) would run, but is now leaning toward endorsing Gingrich.

"Newt Gingrich is kind of a pre-existing condition with me," he said. "We've had a long relationship and I'm interested to see what he's going to do." 


—This post was updated at 2:02 p.m.