NASHUA – Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, of Illinois, said the call from his top two primary rivals to require all Americans get health insurance is "just a talking point" because their plans lack enforcement.
New York Sen. Hillary Clinton and John Edwards both would mandate all adults have insurance, while Obama's plan is voluntary except for children.
"If you set up a mandate that is unaffordable, then you are putting people in the position of having to break the law with no recourse, no option," Obama said during an interview Tuesday with The Telegraph editorial board.
"The truth of that can be seen in that neither John Edwards nor Hillary Clinton have ever proposed a way to enforce their mandate.
"If they don't have a mechanism of enforcement, then it's just a talking point, it's not a real mandate."
When asked to respond to Obama's comments, spokespeople for Edwards and Clinton declined.
The senator did not rule out supporting a mandate in the future if Congress adopted his plans to wring out an estimated $150 billion savings each year in the current system, which would cover virtually all people who can't afford coverage.
"We may consider a mandate down the road if, in fact, we've made it affordable and people don't have an excuse," Obama explained.Obama, 46, said he would resign from public office if carrying out a public act would be in conflict with his conscience.
"There hasn't been something where I have been conscience stricken as a consequence of my stances publicly," Obama began.
"If I ever was in that situation and it was something that I felt very deeply about, then I would stick with my conscience. And if I didn't think I could carry out my public office, public duties in a way that was consistent with my conscience, then I would resign from that public office.
"I have not been in that circumstance yet."
For example, Obama supports abortion rights, as does the Protestant-based, Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago, to which he belongs.
Obama said he's not conflicted morally that he and his wife, Michelle, might make a different decision on whether to have an abortion than others would because every family's circumstances are different.
"I think I act in a way that is consistent with my values. I find that to be a source of strength. I also find I am more persuasive if I am talking from the heart," Obama said.
Despite only three years in the U.S. Senate, Obama said his accomplishments of fighting entrenched interests and brokering consensus on tough issues as an Illinois state senator, community activist and professor of constitutional law are unmatched among the Democratic candidates in the field.
"On both those fronts, I think I've got the strongest track record in the field," Obama said.It's a national disgrace that veterans are seven times more likely to be homeless than other citizens, Obama said.
"It's heartbreaking and it's embarrassing to the rest of us," Obama said.
Last month, Obama proposed universal screening for all veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder.
"We have to have a screening for every single troop that comes home," Obama said.
Regarding Iran, Obama said he has no doubt its leaders are pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but he favors direct negotiations with them.
"I would talk to them directly. I would offer them carrots and I would offer them sticks," Obama said, adding incentives could include lessening of current economic sanctions.
"In exchange, we want them to stand down on the nuclear weapons issue," he added.
While the threat Iran poses is real, Obama it's important to understand the Middle-Eastern nation's leaders have their own problems, which include importing gasoline because they can't refine all the oil available to them.
"This is not a juggernaut that can have an international reach," Obama said.
On immigration, Obama supported the rejected Bush administration plan that would have put illegal immigrants on a long path to citizenship if they paid fines and back taxes and became proficient in English.
"We are not going to round up 12 million and ship them back. That is not who we are as Americans," Obama said.
Ending the war in Iraq and controlling the spiraling cost of government-paid health care would help to reduce the federal budget deficit over time, Obama said.
As president, Obama also said he would "strictly adhere" to the principle of not supporting a spending increase unless its cost is covered either through cuts elsewhere in the federal budget or changes in the tax code.