President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney debate for the first time Wednesday night at 6 p.m. PDT. The 1 1/2-hour debate will be broadcast on all the major news and cable outlets and moderated by PBS television anchor Jim Lehrer.
The debate will be broken into 15-minute segments. The first three — and the first half of the debate — will be devoted to the economy, with the final three segments focused on healthcare, the role of government and governing.
Here’s what to look for:
ROMNEY: Will say America has a net 261,000 fewer jobs today than when Obama took office, with the unemployment rate increasing from 7.8% to 8.1%. Counting those who are underemployed or no longer looking for work, 23.1 million are on the skids. The president has had four years to find a solution, the challenger will say, and he has failed.
OBAMA: Will argue that President George W. Bush dug a tremendous hole by failing to regulate the financial industry and giving big tax breaks to Wall Street fat cats. He’ll repeat President Clinton’s claim that “No president — no president, not me, not any of my predecessors, no one — could have fully repaired all the damage that he found in just four years.” He’ll mention his bailout of the auto industry, early and often.
ROMNEY: Will rail against excess spending that has driven the national debt to more than $16 trillion, and which he says will push it to more than $20 trillion if Obama is reelected. He’ll say the burden of repayment will fall on the middle class, which he wants to protect. Obama has been unwilling to offer a plan to control Medicare costs, one of the biggest drivers of long-term deficits.
OBAMA: Will say Romney’s deficit-reduction plan makes no sense. The Republican talks about an across-the-board 20% tax cut, to be offset by closing of “loopholes,” while increasing spending on defense. Expect the president to hammer his opponent for failing to name those loopholes. He’ll cite analysts who say Romney’s only alternative would be tax increases on the middle class — possibly by limiting home-mortgage deductions.
ROMNEY: Will argue that his proposed 20% income tax cuts will spur the economy and “grow the pie,” unlike Obama’s approach, which he claims will only carve more from an already over-extended economy. Romney will defend his tax cut proposal for the wealthiest, saying their cash must be unleashed so they can expand the businesses that create jobs for others. He’ll invoke the mantle of Ronald Reagan, saying 1980s tax reductions spurred an economic bonanza.
OBAMA: May again invoke President Clinton, who said at the Democratic National Convention that Romney would “double down on trickle down.” Obama will describe his plan — rejected by the Republican House of Representatives — to raise taxes on families making more than 250,000, to the rates that prevailed when Clinton was president. He'll say the economy did quite well, thank you, under Clinton.
ROMNEY: Will argue that Republicans have already passed a plan in the House of Representatives to stave off automatic defense cuts due to take effect next year. The cuts were part of a bipartisan agreement to raise the debt ceiling in 2011. Romney would avoid them by replacing defense reductions with cuts to food stamps and other programs for the needy. The House plan has no chance of clearing the current Senate, where Democrats have a majority.
OBAMA: Will say the defense spending cut can be avoided by increasing taxes on families that make more than $250,000 a year. "The only thing that's standing in the way of us solving this problem right now,” Obama told the Virginian-Pilot in August, “is the unwillingness of some members of Congress to ask people like me — people who've done very well, millionaires, billionaires — to pay a little bit more.” The tax increase has no chance in the House, currently controlled by Republicans.
ROMNEY: Will argue that he would dispose of Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which remains unpopular with many voters, but keep two of its most popular provisions, which ban insurance companies from refusing to cover people with preexisting conditions and allow parents to keep children on their health plans until age 26. He’ll argue for a “voucher,” or premium support, system to help Americans buy health insurance on the open market.