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Jon Huntsman Moves To Shed Obama Brand By Aligning With House GOP On Medicare, Debt Ceiling

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JON HUNTSMAN
Associated Press

KEENE, N.H. – Former U.S. Ambassador to China and potential 2012 GOP candidate Jon Huntsman on Friday unequivocally aligned himself with House Republican leaders, saying he would have voted for Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s Medicare privatization plan and endorsing Speaker John Boehner’s hard public line on the federal government’s debt ceiling.

“I would have voted for it … including the Medicare provisions,” Huntsman said of Ryan’s (R-Wis.) budget plan -- which passed the House with overwhelming GOP support just over a month ago -- in an interview with ABC News' George Stephanopoulos that was conducted Thursday evening and aired Friday morning on “Good Morning America.”

As for raising the nation's debt limit, “What is really scary I think to me and I think most Americans is our debt. And we've got to be bold, and we've got to have, I think, proposals on the table that perhaps in years past would've been laughed out of the room,” he said. “We don't have a choice. We've hit the wall."

Asked a moment later about the ongoing fight over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling, Huntsman took the same position as Boehner (R-Ohio), and actually went one step further by giving a nod to conservative firebrand Sen. Jim DeMint's (R-S.C.) proposed balanced-budget amendment.

“I would vote to increase the debt limit if there was a corresponding level of cuts,” Huntsman said. “And if there was some serious talk about a balanced-budget amendment.”

The statements marked a clear play by Huntsman to brand himself not as President Barack Obama’s former ambassador but as a strong ally of the top Republicans fighting Obama on health care and spending in Washington. It was also meant to blunt criticism of him based on his past support for cap-and-trade programs, for giving state aid benefits to children of illegal immigrants and his continued support for civil unions for gay couples.

Huntsman answered a question about his decision to work for Obama the same way he talked about it at his first event Thursday evening here in the Granite State.

“I worked for the president of the United States. The president asked me, the president of all the people. And during a time of war, during a time of economic difficulty for our country, if I'm asked by my president to serve, I'll stand up and do it,” he said.

But he passed on an opportunity to criticize Obama directly, and defended his letter to Obama in August 2009 praising the president as a “remarkable leader.”

“Thank-you notes are a proud tradition for a lot of people. And it's a good thing that people don't go through George Bush, Sr.'s thank-you notes, because he wrote a lot of them. And I do a lot of them, too,” Huntsman said. “And it was my way of expressing what I thought about his election.”

Former Utah Gov. Huntsman, who recently made comments that raised questions about how he views the Mormon faith he was raised in, answered a question about his religion this way: “I believe in God. I'm a good Christian. I'm very proud of my Mormon heritage. I am Mormon.”