Romney Puts Obama on Defensive in First Debate
Romney Puts Obama on Defensive in First Debate
President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, faced off Wednesday in their first debate of the election campaign. The debate focused on the top issue of the campaign, the state of the U.S. economy.
 
For 90 minutes, the president and the former governor of the state of Massachusetts clashed over how best to strengthen the country's sluggish economy.
 
Romney aggressively attacked the Democratic president's economic policies, and they disagreed sharply about tax cuts. "Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.  So if the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I would say 'Absolutely not.'  I am not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut," he said. 
 
Obama countered that the challenger's ideas for changing the tax system would not work. "The fact is, if you are lowering the rates the way you described, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class," he said. 

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They also sparred over whether the president's health care program, sometimes called "Obamacare," would help or hurt the U.S. economy.  The Republican challenger said Obama should have concentrated instead on creating jobs.
 
"I just do not know how the president could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spent his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare, instead of fighting for jobs for the American people," said Romney. 
 
The president responded that when he took office, problems in the nation's health care system were just as urgent as the jobless rate.
 
The First 2012 Presidential Debate
"It was not just that small businesses were seeing costs skyrocket and they could not get affordable coverage even if they wanted to provide it to their employees.  It was not just that this was the biggest driver of our federal deficit, our overall health care costs.  But it was families who worried about going bankrupt if they got sick," he said. 
 
The widely-anticipated debate, in Denver, Colorado, took place 34 days before the election.
 
Most recent public opinion polls show Obama with a slight lead nationwide and in the swing states that analysts expect to decide the election.
 
Joseph Lowndes, a professor of political science at the University of Oregon, says the first debate is usually the most important, especially for the challenger.  While he believes both candidates performed well, he says Romney did not score a decisive victory.
 
"No challenger who has trailed as much as Romney has, going into this debate, has ever won.  So I think, you know, it is not likely to be enough of a bump to actually change the game in any significant ways," he said. 
 
US Presidential Debates
Frank Gilliam, the dean of the Luskin School of Public Affairs at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), also says the governor did well, but not well enough to give him a lead in the polls.
 
"Romney scored a body blow, perhaps, but nothing to put the president in danger, certainly not a knockout," he said. 
 
This was the first of three debates between the two contenders.  President Obama and Governor Romney will square off next on October 16, on both domestic and foreign policy issues.  The final debate, exclusively on foreign policy, is set for October 22.
 
Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican challenger, Congressman Paul Ryan, will debate on October 11.
 
The president and Romney have rarely met, and have almost no personal relationship.  Before Wednesday's debate, they had not seen each other in person in almost five years. 
 
 
Below is VOA's minute by minute look at the debate, as it happened. 

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Moderator Jim Lehrer welcomes audience to debate hall and explains rules: "Absolute silence." Lehrer says this event is important because it's about those millions and millions of people watching to make one of the most important decisions a citizen of this country makes. Lehrer says, as a precaution, he's going to ask Mrs. Obama and Mrs. Romney to enforce the rules of silence on their respective sides.

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Lehrer says "let's have a terrific evening for all of you and for our country." After welcoming the audience and nationwide viewers, he says tonight's 90 minutes will be about domestic issues. Lehrer says the questions will include three on the economy and one each on health care, the role of government and governing. He says both candidates will also have two minute closing statements

0104 UTC

Romney and Obama greet each other and shake hands, wave to the audience. Frist question is about jobs and President Obama answers first. 

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Obama acknowledges his wedding anniversary, saying he wants to wish Michelle a happy anniversary. Obama says the U.S. economy has begun to fight its way back, but that we all know there is still a lot of work to do. He says the question is not where we've been, but where we're going. Obama says it's ultimately up to the voters on which path we'll take.

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Romney jokes that he's sure this is the most romantic place Obama can imagine being on his anniversary. Romney says it's going to take a different path than the one we've been on to create jobs. Romney says he's concerned the path the nation is on has been unsuccessful. He says he'll restore the vitality that gets America working again.

0112 UTC

Lehrer asks Obama to respond to Romney's statement on the trickle-down approach. Obama says programs to boost education are showing results. Obama says he and Romney agree that the nation's corporate tax code is too high and says he wants to lower it. Obama says he and Romney agree that the nation has to boost its energy production. Obama calls for looking at the energy sources of the future and looking at those investments.

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Lehrer prompts Romney to ask Obama a direct question. Romney challenges Obama's claim that his economic plan includes a $5 trillion tax cut. Romney says the people who are having a hard time under Obama's policies are middle income Americans. Romney looks directly at Obama as he says middle income Americans are being "crushed." Romney said he agrees that education is key. Romney says he agrees the country needs to bring the tax rates down both for corporations and individuals. Romney says energy is critical, but increase in natural gas and oil is not due to president's policies, but in spite of them. 

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Obama says four years ago, he said he would cut taxes for middle class families. He says that's exactly what he did, because he believes the nation does best when the middle class is doing well. Obama says studies show the only way to enforce Romney's economic plan without adding to the deficit would be to put the burden on the middle class. He said he does not believe that is a recipe for economic growth.

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Romney says he will not add to the deficit with his tax plan. Romney says he wants to bring tax rates down, so small businesses will be able to hire more people.

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Obama says if you are lowering the rates as Romney suggests, there is no way to avoid raising the deficit or burdening the middle class. Obama says he lowered taxes for small businesses 18 times and wants to continue the tax cuts in place for small businesses and families. Obama says the country should go back to the tax rates it had when Bill Clinton was president. He says by doing that, the nation can reduce the deficit, encourage job growth and allow for investments in things like education.

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Lehrer points out that this discussion has gone over its allotted 15 minutes.
 
Romney continues to hit back at Obama's policies, saying he does not want to cost the nation jobs. Romney says there's nothing better to get the budget balanced than have more people working. Obama says math, common sense and our history shows Romney's plan is not a recipe for growth.

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Romney says he is not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut or any tax cut that adds to the deficit. Romney says his priority is putting people back to work in America. 

Lehrer asks second question: what are the differences between the two candidates as to how they would go about tackling the deficit?

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Romney says the amount of debt we're adding is "simply not moral." Romney says there are 3 ways you can cut a deficit: raise taxes, cut spending or grow the economy. He says the president would prefer raising taxes, but that he wants to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time. Romney says Obamacare is on his list of programs to get rid of. Romney says the president said he would cut the deficit in half, but that instead, he doubled it. 

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Obama says he had more than a trillion dollar deficit greeting him when he walked into the Oval Office. Obama says everyone knows the nation needs to do more and that he has put forward a deficit reduction plan. Obama says it needs to be done in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts.

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Romney challenges Obama by saying he has said before that he would cut the deficit, but that the nation still shows trillion dollar deficits every year. Romney says Obama's tax plan will kill hundreds of thousands of jobs. 

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Obama says in order to reduce the deficit, there has to be revenue in addition to cuts, but that Romney has ruled out revenue. Romney says the idea of taxing people more and putting people out of work will never balance the budget. Romney says he wants to put the nation on the path to growth with more money coming in because people are working.

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Obama says he has identified areas where the nation can make a change that will help the economy, including eliminating tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jets. 
Obama calls for not giving tax breaks to companies who are shipping jobs overseas. Obama repeats his call for a "balanced approach." He says budgets reflect choices, and that ultimately the nation is going to have to make some decisions. He says the magnitude of Romney's proposed tax cuts would result in "severe hardship" for people.

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Romney criticizes Obama's stance on eliminating tax breaks for oil companies, saying Obama has provided 50 years worth of tax breaks to green energy. 

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Some on Twitter are having a bit of fun discussing the flag lapel pins worn by both candidates



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Romney says the right approach is one which relies on the brilliance of the American people and states, not the federal government.

Obama says social security is going to have to be tweaked, but the basic structure is sound. He talks about the case of his grandmother, who he says could be independent because of Social Security and Medicare. He says his approach is to determine how the nation can strengthen the system over the long term.

Obama says the way for the nation to deal with Medicare is to lower health care costs. He says the nation does not need a major structural change to make sure Social Security is there for the future. Romney says neither he nor Obama are proposing changes for retirees or near-retirees for Social Security or Medicare.

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Romney says he was wrong that Obama isn't proposing changes for current retirees on Medicare. He says he can't understand how Obama can cut more than $700 billion from Medicare to balance costs of Obamacare. 

Obama charges that Romney would turn Medicare into a voucher program, and says he does not support that. Obama says he does not think vouchers are the right way to go, and that's not just his opinion.

Obama says he has become fond of the term Obamacare, and that if his health care plan is repealed, the primary beneficiaries are insurance companies who will gain billions of dollars back when they aren't making seniors any healthier.
 
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Some on Twitter are critical of the way Jim Lehrer is moderating the debate

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Romney says he would allow seniors to choose the current Medicare plan or a private plan of their choice. He says he'd rather not have the government telling him what kind of health care to get. Romney discusses idea of getting competition into the Medicare world, so people can get better plans at lower costs.

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Obama counters that a move to a voucher system is putting seniors at the mercy of insurance companies. He said AARP has said Romney's plan would weaken Medicare substantially. Romney talks over Lehrer to continue discussing Medicare. Both Romney and Obama agree that voters have a clear choice between the two of them on Medicare.

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Romney responds to Lehrer question on government regulation by saying regulation is essential, but that it can become out of date. He said some of the regulations under Obama have had unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. Romney mentions The Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act as an example.

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Obama says his administration stepped in with the toughest reforms on Wall Street since the 1930s, telling banks they cannot engage in behaviors putting Main Street at risk. Obama questions Romney's desire to repeal Dodd Frank, looking directly into camera to ask, does anybody think there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? If you do, he says, Romney is your candidate. 

Romney says banks are now reluctant to give loans and that Dodd Frank has hurt the housing market. He says he will make sure the government doesn't hurt the functioning of the marketplace and businesses.

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Lehrer begins the next segment by asking Romney why he wants Obama's health care act repealed. 

Romney says the cost of health care is prohibitive. He says Obamacare is adding to the cost of insurance for families and that expensive things hurt families. Romney says he doesn't like the idea that the plan puts in place an unelected board that's going to tell people what kind of health care they can have. Romney says he doesn't understand how Obama could have spent his energy and passion on Obamacare instead of creating jobs.
 
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Lehrer asks Obama for his argument against repeal of the health care plan.

Obama says his administration worked on health care alongside working on jobs. He said the plan does not mean a government takeover, but it does mean insurance companies "can't jerk" Americans around. Obama says the irony is the nation has seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, highlighting what he says was an identical model Romney put in place as governor.

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Romney says he likes the way they did it in Massachusetts, but charges that Obama pushed through his plan entirely on a partisan basis. He says legislators from both parties in Massachusetts worked on their plan together. Romney says Republicans put out a bipartisan plan that was swept aside. He said something this big and important has to be done on a bipartisan basis and the nation has to have a president who can reach across the aisle.

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Obama says the nation is already beginning to see progress from his health care plan.

Obama says the problem is Romney has not described what the nation would replace his health care plan with, except to say he'll leave it to the states. Obama says by repealing Obamacare, 50 million people would lose health care insurance.

0209 UTC

Romney says pre-existing conditions are covered under his own plan and that young people can stay on their family plans. Romney says the government is not effective in bringing down the cost of almost anything. Romney says free people and free enterprise are more effective in bringing down costs than the government will ever be. Romney says in order to bring the cost of health care down, the nation does not need a board telling people what kind of treatment they can have, but needs to give doctors and providers an incentive. 

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