VANDEHEI: The first question from the readers, Governor Romney, is from Jonathan Rubin (ph) in Fairfax, Virginia.
"As governor of Massachusetts, Senator McCain just pointed out you raised hundreds of millions of dollars in additional revenue through so-called fees and loophole closings. You passed a health care bill forcing individuals to buy insurance on the threat of a fine. How do you reconcile that policy with your claim to be the authentic conservative?"
ROMNEY: Well, let's talk about each.
I mentioned fees, and I think it's appropriate if the state is providing a service to someone that's not a requirement to have a car or a driver's license, but instead, let's say, we're going to be taking out an oil tank from your back yard because it's leaking into the ground and the state's going to provide that service. But to charge a fee sufficient to do so makes a lot of sense.
And so the fees ought to be adjusted from time to time to compose the amount of what the cost is of providing that service. And if there hasn't been a fee raised in a couple of decades, you probably have some inflation in there you ought to adjust for.
ROMNEY: But then, secondly, with regards to my health care plan, let me describe what I think is the ultimate conservative approach.
In this country, you have today about 47 million people that don't have health insurance. We went out and tried to find out why they don't. We found out that about half of them could afford to buy insurance if it were reasonably priced. They could afford to buy it, but they weren't buying it.
And we asked them why. And they said, "Well, why should we buy it? If we get sick, we can go to the hospital and get care for free."
And we said: You know what? If somebody could afford insurance, they should either buy the insurance or pay their own way. They don't have to buy insurance if they don't want to, but pay their own way. But they shouldn't be allowed to just show up at the hospital and say, somebody else should pay for me.
And so we said: No more free riders. It was like bringing "workfare" to welfare. We said: If you can afford insurance, then either have the insurance or get a health savings account. Pay your own way, but no more free ride.
And that was what the mandate did. It said, you have got to come with either the insurance or a health savings account or the like.
I think it's the conservative approach, to make sure that people who can afford care are getting it at their expense, not at the expense of the taxpayers and government. That I consider to be a step towards socialism.
COOPER: Our next question is from Janet Hook of the L.A. Times.
HOOK: This is for Senator McCain.
Senator McCain, Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed that California be allowed to implement much tougher environmental regulations on emission requirements than apply to the rest of the country. This is an initiative that conservatives generally oppose, and the Bush administration rejected California's request.
Do you side with the governor or with the Bush administration?
MCCAIN: Well, there's some physical danger. I have to agree...
(LAUGHTER) ... with the governor.
Look, I'm a federalist. And I believe the states should decide to enormous degrees what happens within those states, including off their coasts. The people of California have decided they don't want oil drilling off their coasts. The people of Louisiana have decided that they do.