Romney barrels out of first debate on offense
Mitt Romney is barreling out of the first presidential debate energized by a solid performance that showed his determination to take it to President Barack Obama with gusto.
The president, intent on keeping his momentum from stalling, is warning Americans that his Republican rival's policy prescriptions for a fragile economy are more fantasy than reality.
Standing toe-to-toe with the president Wednesday for the first time in the campaign, Romney held his own at a time when there already were signs that the race is tightening in some of the battleground states where Obama has enjoyed an advantage.
Obama kept his cool and signaled that he won't let up on his message that Romney's plans on taxes, health care, the deficit and more just don't add up.
The issues that have dominated television advertising in up-for-grab swing states were all but absent from the debate.
Instead, Obama and Romney sparred on spending, taxes and the role of government.
No one mentioned the "you didn't build that" comment that quickly became a favorite Republican attack after Obama said it to an audience in Virginia. Nor did anyone invoke the "47 percent" of Americans who Romney said in a hidden-camera video don't pay taxes and see themselves as victims.
Neither candidate discussed Obama's endorsement of gay marriage or his decision to halt deportations for some young illegal immigrants. And no one brought up Romney's strong criticism of unions, either.
The president says Romney favors cutting a fifth of the Education Department's budget while Romney is countering that Obama directed $90 billion to so-called "green jobs" - a sum, he says, that would hire 2 million teachers.
Obama says there are challenges that only the federal government can solve. Romney says government should do only what is prescribed in the Constitution and challenges that only have federal solutions, such as national security.
Obama pointed to Romney's running mate, Paul Ryan, whose budget proposals make sharp cuts across the board. Romney retorted that Washington invested in new failed energy research.
While Americans heard a lot about the economy and taxes in last night's presidential debate -- they didn't hear Obama say anything about the secretly-recorded video in which Romney tells donors it's not his job to care about the 47 percent of Americans who pay no taxes and see themselves as victims.
An Obama adviser, David Axelrod, is suggesting that Obama didn't mention it because it's already been so widely seen and heard. He tells MSNBC that it's "been very much a part of the discussion."
Democratic ads have been playing up the Romney comment.
Wall Street reform
The candidates also sparred over federal regulations that restrict Wall Street and financial institutions.
Romney is softening his usual anti-regulatory rhetoric, saying government rules are essential in a free economy. But he says the Dodd-Frank law that targeted the financial industry in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis was a mistake.
Romney says the law has "unintended consequences" because it allows banks to grow to the point that they are too big to fail. He says the law's mortgage requirements don't help homeowners.
Obama asks whether anyone thinks the financial crisis occurred because of too much oversight and Wall Street regulation. He says anyone who thinks that was the cause should vote for Romney.
Romney is vowing to repeal President Obama's health care law, saying it adds costs to the health system and has led to Medicare cuts.
Romney said that Obama spent his energy pushing through a massive health care law rather than trying to fix the struggling economy. Romney says it's expensive and expensive things hurt families.
Obama says his administration worked on the health care law at the same time he was working to create jobs. He says the law has helped people with pre-existing conditions and those who have children under age 26.
The president counters that he based the law on Romney's own plan when he was governor.
Obama says, quote, "We've seen this model work really well - in Massachusetts."
The president said Romney would turn Medicare into a private system and put seniors at the mercy of insurance companies. Romney counters that the incumbent Democrat already has raided the Medicare fund and weakened the system.
Both promised that they would not cut benefits for older Americans but sharply disagreed about options for younger workers.
Obama says he is cutting down on excessive payments in the system so the program survives for future generations.
Romney calls those cuts a slashing from seniors' care to pay for Democrats' health care law.
Romney, however, didn't mention that his running mate, Paul Ryan, proposed similar cuts.
Excerpts from the debate
Obama: "Gov. Romney and I do share a deep interest in encouraging small-business growth. So at the same time that my tax plan has already lowered taxes for 98 percent of families, I also lowered taxes for small businesses 18 times. And what I want to do is continue the tax rates, the tax cuts that we put into place for small businesses and families. But I have said that for incomes over $250,000 a year, that we should go back to the rates that we had when Bill Clinton was president, when we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficit to surplus, and created a whole lot of millionaires to boot."
Romney: "I want to bring the rates down, at the same time lower deductions and exemptions and credits and so forth, so we keep getting the revenue we need. And you'd think, well, then why lower the rates? And the reason is because small business pays that individual rate; 54 percent of America's workers work in businesses that are taxed not at the corporate tax rate, but at the individual tax rate. And if we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people. For me, this is about jobs. This is about getting jobs for the American people."
Obama: "I think we've got to invest in education and training. I think it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America, that we change our tax code to make sure that we're helping small businesses and companies that are investing here in the United States, that we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that allows us to make these critical investments."
Romney: "First of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it. ... No. 2, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state. No. 3, I'll make government more efficient and to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments."
Obama: "I don't think vouchers are the right way to go. And this is not my own - only my opinion. AARP thinks that the savings that we obtained from Medicare bolster the system, lengthen the Medicare trust fund by eight years. Benefits were not affected at all. And ironically, if you repeal 'Obamacare' - and I have become fond of this term, Obamacare - if you repeal it, what happens is those seniors right away are going to be paying $600 more in prescription care. They're now going to have to be paying co-pays for basic checkups that can keep them healthier."
Romney: "What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare. And the president supports taking $716 billion out of that program. ... For people coming along that are young, what I do to make sure that we can keep Medicare in place for them is to allow them either to choose the current Medicare program or a private plan. Their choice."
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