Repealing "Obamacare" would be a top priority for Rick Santorum if he were elected president.

The former Pennsylvania senator who is seeking the Republican Party nomination made a stop in Decorah Monday as part of a weeklong tour of the state, including public appearances in all 99 counties.

The national health care policy passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in March 2010 is an impediment to the country's "fundamental freedom," according to Santorum, a former U.S. senator.

"When the federal government is going to tell everyone in America how much they're going to spend on health care and what policy they're going to have and where they're going to get it, it changes the entire character of America," he said.

"It will make you dependent on them (the government) for your health care and get you hooked even though 80 percent of Americans have health insurance now," he said.

"If you don't elect a Republican president, you're never going to repeal Obamacare," Santorum said.

His second mission would be to control government spending by passing a balanced budget, which limits the size of government.

He also pledged to ignite the economy by lowering tax rates and simplifying the tax code.



Manufacturing

Santorum said rural America would receive a boost from his plan to help return manufacturing and processing jobs to this country.

"We need to compete with China and make it more profitable to make things here ... manufacturing is key for rural America. It's where the plants were located," he said.

Santorum said U.S. companies have $1.5 trillion in capital sitting in foreign bank accounts but it isn't invested here because it would be taxed at 35 percent. He said those companies should not have to pay taxes if the money were invested in American plants.

Santorum said he would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to zero for manufacturers that make their goods in the U.S. Manufacturers need cheap electrical power to succeed, he said, and more power needs to be generated.

He said all energy subsidies should be eliminated so energy companies can compete on an "even playing field." Coal can be mined and burned safely and cleanly, he added.

Santorum said he's also a "very big supporter" of nuclear energy.

On education, the candidate said the system should be structured around the "customer" - the parents.

"They pay for education, yet they are not treated like a customer ... as president, I'd make sure we have a parent-centered education system in this country," he said.



Questions

Asked about frontrunner Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan, Santorum said it would hit seniors and families hard, eliminating deductions for children.

"The more people look at it, the less they like it," he said.

Northeast Iowa Tea Party Chairman Tom Hansen of Decorah asked Santorum if he'd return the country to a free-market economy and eliminate all subsidies.

Santorum said he'd be hesitant to eliminate the Small Business Administration, which provides loans to small businesses, but in general believes in less government involvement in private business.

"I've been a consistent conservative over time with a record of leadership and limited government," he said.

Santorum said the top three finishers in the Iowa straw poll each spent more than $2 million on the event and he spent less than $100,000.

Michele Bachmann won the poll followed by Texas Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Santorum.

Santorum noted he's twice won the state of Pennsylvania, considered a "swing state" in presidential elections.



Following the candidates

After hearing Santorum speak, LeRoy and Jean Iverson of Decorah said they thought the candidate was sincere. Jean said she's been involved in politics since campaigning door-to-door for Dwight Eisenhower and helping to organize the Young Republicans at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn.

"We went to see everybody last time," she said of the candidates making appearances in Decorah before the last presidential election. "Both the Republicans and the Democrats."

"I like to see them close up," LeRoy said.