Signaling right off the bat that this presidential debate is going to be a more combative encounter than their first one, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and President Obama went at it almost immediately after 20-year-old college student Jeremy Epstein asked how each planned to make sure he has a job when he graduates in 2014.
One of the last times Romney entertained a similar question from a student about the high cost of college – at an August 2011 town hall in New Hampshire – Romney told the student, “Either borrow a lot, or you’ll have parents help you, or do it yourself.”
This time, a far more gentle, supportive Romney was on display. He told Epstein that his question is “one that’s being asked by college kids all over this country.” He personalized the answer, saying he’d met a recent college graduate in Pennsylvania working three part-time jobs.
“We have to make sure it’s easier for kids to afford college,” said Romney, “and make sure when they get out of college they can get a job.”
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He spoke about his efforts to expand scholarships to Massachusetts students when he was governor of the state, and spoke of the importance of Pell grants, which his running mate Paul D. Ryan’s budget calls for slashing.
“But the key thing is to make sure you can get a job when you get out of school,” said Romney, who launched an attack on Obama’s economic policies of the last four years. “When do you graduate?” he asked Epstein. “When you come out in 2014, I presume I am going to be president, I’m going to make sure you have a job.”
Obama addressed Epstein directly too, and availed himself of the opportunity, which he did not do in the first debate, of extolling his jobs record and knocking Romney for urging Detroit’s car companies to go bankrupt. “The most important thing we can do is make sure we are creating jobs, not just jobs, but good-paying jobs,” he said. “I want to build on the 5 million jobs we have created in the last five months in the private sector alone.”
The president spoke about rebuilding manufacturing, retraining and the importance of America controlling its own energy supply.
“I want to build manufacturing jobs in this country again,” Obama said. “When Gov. Romney said, we should let Detroit go bankrupt, I said, we’re going to bet on American workers and American auto industry and it’s come surging back.”
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When debate moderator Candy Crowley of CNN pressed both men for “a more immediate answer” on how unemployed Americans can be put back to work, Romney tried to correct Obama on the issue of Detroit’s bankruptcy, saying that, in fact, Chrysler and GM did go through bankruptcy as he had argued.
The president, unlike in the first debate, directly challenged Romney.
“What Gov. Romney said just isn’t true. You wanted to take them into bankruptcy without providing them any way to stay open, and we would have lost a million jobs.” (In fact, the government lent the auto companies money to allow them to stay in business as they restructured.)
“That Detroit answer,” interjected Romney. “Way off the mark.”
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