Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney smiles at President Obama… (Charlie Neibergall / Associated…)
No question, Mitt Romney’s extensive debate preparation is paying off. At least in the first half of the debate, he seemed more emotionally connected than President Obama with the material -- making jokes and self-deprecating remarks and even invoking Big Bird in a discussion about the deficit and budget priorities.
When moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS asked each candidate to describe the difference between his plan to attack the deficit and his opponent’s, Romney couched the issue in moral terms.
“I’m glad you raised that,” he said. “I think it’s frankly not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing that those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation. They’re going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives, and the amount of debt we’re adding -- at a trillion a year -- is simply not moral.”
Cutting the deficit, said Romney, can be done by cutting taxes, cutting spending and growing the economy. And finally, after being accused continually of failing to give specifics about things like which loopholes he would close in the tax code to offset the tax reductions he’d like to make, Romney spelled out some cuts he’d enforce. “Obamacare is on the list,” Romney said. “I apologize, Mr. President. I used that term with all respect.”
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If Romney was trying to throw Obama onto the defensive, it didn’t work. “I like it,” the president interjected.
“OK, good. So I get rid of that.”
Then, looking at moderator Lehrer, Romney said, “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS…. I like PBS, I love Big Bird -- I actually like, you too -- but I am not going to keep spending money on things [we have] to borrow money from China to pay for.”
Romney vowed to return the control of some federal government programs to states, though he didn’t specify which programs, and reduce the number of government agencies and departments, and the number of federal employees, though he hastened to add that would be through attrition.
And finally, he slapped at the president for promising to reduce the deficit and instead presiding over a massive increase.
“The president said he’d cut the deficit in half,” Romney said. “Unfortunately, he doubled it -- trillion-dollar deficits for the last four years. The president has put in place almost as much debt held by the public as all presidents combined.”
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The president responded by reminding viewers what the economic terrain looked like when he took office in 2009, lodging an indirect critique of his predecessor, President George W. Bush.
“When I walked into the Oval Office,” said Obama, “I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me. And we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for, and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for, and then a massive economic crisis.”
In a curiously impersonal way, Obama said, “And despite that, what we’ve said is, yes, we had to take some initial emergency measures to make sure we didn’t slip into a Great Depression.” And, the president added, he oversaw the elimination of “77 government programs -- everything from aircraft that the Air Force had ordered but weren’t working very well, 18 government programs for education that were well-intentioned but weren’t helping kids learn.”
He said that rooting out fraud in Medicare and Medicaid on his watch had saved $50 billion, and that he worked with members of both parties to cut $1 trillion from the discretionary domestic budget.
“That’s the largest cut since Dwight Eisenhower,” said Obama. “We all know we have to do more.”
DEBATE QUIZ: Who said it?
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