WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Republican Jon Huntsman, President Barack Obama's former ambassador to China, will say the country must make "hard decisions" to deal with its debt on Tuesday as he formally enters his party's 2012 presidential nomination race.
He will call for "broad and bold" changes to tax laws and regulations and say the country should seek energy independence and boost job creation, according to excerpts of his speech, which gave no specifics.
"And we must make hard decisions that are necessary to avert disaster," the former Utah governor said, painting a bleak picture of what it would mean for the country if it does not reduce its debt load.
"If we don't, in less than a decade, every dollar of federal revenue will go to covering the costs of Medicare, Social Security and interest payments on our debt. Meanwhile, we'll sink deeper in debt to pay for everything else - from national security to disaster relief," Huntsman said.
Democrats have said they see Huntsman, who was a popular governor known for some moderate policies, as a potentially formidable candidate against Obama, although he currently lacks national name recognition and many polls put his support at less than 2 percent.
Huntsman also said he respected the other Republican candidates and his Democratic former boss, Obama.
"I respect the President. He and I have a difference of opinion on how to help the country we both love. But the question each of us wants the voters to answer is who will be the better President; not who's the better American," Huntsman said.
Huntsman was Obama's ambassador to China from 2009 until April when he resigned to return to the United States and lay the groundwork for his presidential bid.
Conservatives have attacked Huntsman for his work with Obama, which Huntsman has described as service to the country. Democrats have attacked Huntsman as changing his former moderate positions in order to appeal to the most conservative Republican base.
Huntsman will formally launch his presidential race in a speech later on Tuesday at Liberty State Park in New Jersey, with the Statue of Liberty in the background. Former President Ronald Reagan launched his bid for the White House in 1980 at the same spot.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, editing by Jackie Frank)