Romney on Middle Ground: I Can Work with Democrats
Hanover, NH (AP) - Presidential challenger Mitt Romney accused President Barack Obama of failing to lead in a time of economic peril but sounded less conservative than his Republican rivals in their debate Tuesday night, defending the 2008-2009 Wall Street bailout and declaring he could work with "good" Democrats.
Romney also gave one of his most spirited defenses of his health care initiative when he was Massachusetts governor, legislation that Obama has called a partial blueprint for his own national overhaul. By positioning himself closer to the political center on several points, Romney sought to underscore his claim that he can draw crucial independent voters in next year's general election.
His chief rival, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, seemed less sure-footed. He repeated his main talking points about free enterprise but did little to dent Romney.
Former pizza company executive Herman Cain, who has climbed in polls lately, got more air time than usual. He repeatedly touted his call for replacing the U.S. tax code with a 9 percent national sales tax and a 9 percent levy on personal and corporate income.
Meanwhile Tuesday, Obama defended his economic policies and criticized his Republican foes in a visit to the general election battleground of Pennsylvania.
And, hours before the candidates met in Hanover, Romney picked up New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's endorsement. Romney hopes it will help cement his support among the GOP establishment and nurture an image that he's the party's inevitable nominee.
Romney seemed happy to play the part of front-runner in the nearly two-hour debate, sponsored by Bloomberg News and The Washington Post. He joked breezily with the moderators, chided Perry for interrupting him and ignored the Texan when quizzing other contenders.
Romney's strategy might carry some risks in a Republican primary process that's dominated by staunch conservatives, especially in the early voting states of Iowa and South Carolina. The Wall Street bailout is a sore point with many such voters.
But Romney seemed to sail through the debate largely unscathed, with Cain and Perry scoring few direct hits. The sharpest criticism of his bailout remarks came from former Sen. Rick Santorum, who lags in the polls.
Romney said no one likes the idea of bailing out big Wall Street firms. However, he said, many of the actions taken in 2008 and 2009 were needed to keep the dollar's value from plummeting and "to make sure that we didn't all lose our jobs." The nation was on a precipice, Romney said, "and we could have had a complete meltdown."
Romney, however, said he disagreed with Obama's actions to shore up General Motors and Chrysler. The administration says the moves were highly successful and much of the federal money has been repaid.
Romney said he would work with "good" Democrats to lead the country out of economic crisis. He said that's what he did as Massachusetts governor and what he would do if he wins the White House.
Perry was not asked about the bailouts, but his campaign distributed his past statements saying "government should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America."
Perry said the government must open the way for more production of domestic energy sources. The nation must "pull back those regulations that are strangling American entrepreneurship," he said.
He pressed Romney on his decision as Massachusetts governor to require residents to obtain health insurance, a central component of Obama's federal plan.
"I'm proud of the fact that we took on a major problem in my state," Romney said. Eight percent of Massachusetts residents were uninsured, he said, and they took advantage of others who covered their costs at emergency rooms.
Romney said Obama's national plan differed from his state plan because Obama raised taxes and cut Medicare.
Romney then turned the issue against Perry. "We have the lowest number of kids who are uninsured of any state in America," he said. "You have the highest" in Texas.
Given a chance to assail Wall Street, Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann blamed too much regulation for the sluggish economy. She also said Obama wants to let Medicare collapse, pushing everyone into "Obamacare," the health overhaul passed by congressional Democrats in 2010.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said Americans have a right to be angry about the economy. He said the solution is firing Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner.
When Cain praised former Fed chairman Alan Greenspan, Rep. Ron Paul retorted that Greenspan was "a disaster." Paul, the most libertarian of the eight candidates, has called for eliminating the Federal Reserve.
For much of the debate, which focused solely on the economy, the candidates stuck to their economic messages and kept their criticism turned on Obama. The verbal fistfights of the three previous debates didn't occur Tuesday night, even though the first primaries and caucuses are less than 100 days away.
The question of the candidates' religious affiliations, a hot topic in the past few days, came up only in a light-hearted way. Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman joked that he wouldn't raise the issue with Romney, a fellow Mormon.
"Sorry, Rick," he said to Perry. A Perry supporter last week said that Mormons are not Christians.
Even when the candidates were given the chance to ask each other questions, the exchanges were cordial.
Three candidates in a row - Cain, Gingrich and Huntsman - directed their questions to Romney, underscoring his perch as the Republican to beat. In each case, Romney avoided appearing defensive or testy.
Romney directed his question to Bachmann. His choice seemed to suggest that he doesn't see Perry or Cain as dire threats, and it might play well with female voters and with staunch conservatives in Iowa, where Perry needs to do well.
Perry says Texas fund had oversight, created jobs
Hanover, NH (AP) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry is defending his oversight of a state fund for emerging technologies.
According to a report by The Dallas Morning News, companies with ties to at least eight big donors received awards from the fund.
Texas has given more than $170 million to 120 companies since the fund began in 2003.
Perry says the fund has helped create more than 50,000 jobs and the Texas legislature has "full oversight" of the program. He says 75 percent of the companies that got money never contributed to his campaign.
Perry was asked during a Republican presidential primary debate about the Obama administration's support of a solar energy company that received more than $500 million in federal money, then went bankrupt. Perry says he opposed the federal support.
FACT CHECK: Regulations not a huge jobs killer
by Calvin Woodward and Christoper S. Rugaber, AP
Washington, D.C. (AP) - Is regulation strangling the American entrepreneur? Several Republican presidential candidates say so. The numbers don't.
The anti-regulatory fervor was in evidence Tuesday night in the latest GOP debate, but rhetorical flourishes, on that and other issues, masked far more complex realities.
A look at some of the claims and how they compare with the facts.
MITT ROMNEY: "All of the Obama regulations, we say no. It costs jobs."
RICK PERRY: Regulations "are strangling the American entrepreneurship out there."
RICK SANTORUM: "Repeal every regulation the Obama administration put in place."
THE FACTS: Labor Department data show that only a tiny percentage of companies that experience large layoffs cite government regulation as the reason. Since Barack Obama took office, just two-tenths of 1 percent of layoffs have been due to government regulation, the data show.
Businesses frequently complain about regulation, but there is little evidence that it is any worse now than in the past or that it is costing significant numbers of jobs. Most economists believe there is a simpler explanation: Companies aren't hiring because there isn't enough consumer demand.
The conservative National Federation of Independent Business asks its small-business membership each month to name the single most important problem they're facing. Last month, the most common response was "poor sales," cited by 28 percent. Government regulation came in second, at 18 percent.
Concerns over regulation have increased in the past two years - only 11 percent cited it in April 2009, not long after Obama entered the White House. But the rise hasn't been outside historical norms. More small businesses complained about regulation during the administrations of President Bill Clinton and the President George H.W. Bush, according to an analysis of the federation's data by the liberal Economic Policy Institute.
High levels of economic uncertainty are another drag on business, but economists say that's less due to regulation than to fights over government spending and taxes. Both consumer and business confidence fell in August, for example, as the White House and Congress wrangled over the nation's borrowing limit. But that was a bipartisan dispute that can't be solely pinned on Obama.
REP. MICHELE BACHMANN: "We have a big problem today when it comes to Medicare, because we know that nine years from now, the Medicare hospital Part B Trust Fund is going to be dead flat broke." She also charged that "President Obama plans for Medicare to collapse, and instead everyone will be pushed into Obamacare."
THE FACTS: Bachmann is mixing up Medicare while exaggerating the danger of insolvency.
Part B is not for hospital payments, but for outpatient care, and it's technically impossible for that part of Medicare to go broke because it is financed by the federal government's general fund and by beneficiary premiums. Medicare's Part A is the hospital trust fund, and it is now projected to become insolvent in 2024, 13 years in the future. Even then it would be able to pay 90 percent of its obligations, a far cry from "dead flat broke."
When the fund has been threatened in the past, Congress has come through with changes that restrained program growth, largely by cutting provider payments.
There is no evidence to support her charge that Obama plans for Medicare to collapse; his health care law envisions nothing like that. In fact, a Republican budget that Bachmann voted for would make far larger changes to the program for the next generation, converting it to a voucher-like system.
HERMAN CAIN: Repeatedly touted his 9-9-9 tax plan as a "bold" overhaul of the tax code that would get the economy back on track, and be embraced by the nation.
THE FACTS: Cain's plan is bold, and some economists think it includes features that would help the economy. But it is unlikely that the millions of low- and middle-income families who would face significant tax increases will embrace it. The wealthy, however, would probably love it because they would get big tax cuts.
Cain would eliminate the payroll taxes that fund Social Security and Medicare, and replace the progressive federal income tax with a flat 9 percent tax on income. He would lower the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 9 percent, and impose a new 9 percent national sales tax.
Cain argued Tuesday night that low-income workers would pay less because he would eliminate payroll taxes, which total 15.3 percent of wages, when employer and employee shares are included. But his analysis omits the fact that most low-income households make a profit from the federal income tax because they qualify for so many credits, deductions and exemptions. The result is that most low-income families currently pay less than 9 percent of their income in federal taxes. Nearly half of all U.S. households - mostly low-and middle-income families - pay no federal income taxes at all, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress.
Additionally, all households would face a new 9 percent national sales tax, again disproportionately impacting those with lower incomes who spend all or most of their money.
High-income households would get a tax cut from the lower income tax rate. Also, Cain's proposal would eliminate taxes on capital gains.
ROMNEY: "On Day One, I will issue an executive order identifying China as a currency manipulator...If you're not willing to stand up to China, you'll get run over by China. And that's what's happened for 20 years."
JON HUNTSMAN: "I don't subscribe to the Don Trump school or the Mitt Romney school of international trade. I don't want to find ourselves in a trade war.... We have to get used to the fact that, as far as the eye can see into the 21st Century, it's going to be the United States and China on the world stage."
THE FACTS. Economists largely agree with Huntsman, who was U.S. ambassador to China earlier in the Obama administration, that confronting China head on over currency manipulation would bring retaliation against U.S. business. The policy debate among Republicans - Democrats, too - is whether that risk is worth it.
Few dispute that China manipulates its currency by pegging it to the dollar. However, opponents of confronting China worry about a trade war that the fragile global economy cannot afford.
China may have more to lose than the U.S. if trade in goods were curtailed. But Washington depends heavily on China to buy U.S. Treasury securities to help finance its budget deficits.
PERRY: Pointed to "the 54,600 jobs that have been created" by two state funds used for attracting businesses to Texas or helping new companies get started.
THE FACTS: The funds have not delivered that many jobs yet. Lucy Nashed, a Perry spokeswoman, said figures for 2011 are not available, but as of the end of 2010, the funds had only created 30,749 actual new positions in the state.
To be sure, the 89 firms that have received $439.5 million in state money have several years to create the jobs. But one study found nearly half the companies that got money had not met their goals. In many cases, the governor's staff allowed the companies to renegotiate their contracts or pay back a percentage of the funds they received.
BACHMANN: "I think if you look at the problem with the economic meltdown, you can trace it right to the federal government, because it was the federal government that demanded that banks and mortgage companies lower platinum-level lending standards to new lows. It was the federal government that pushed the subprime loans."
THE FACTS: It might be argued that the government pursued policies under both Democratic and Republican presidents to promote home ownership, such as setting up mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make more affordable mortgages possible, and the tax deduction for home mortgages. But it's a stretch to suggest that federal regulators forced banks to make mortgage loans to people who could not afford them. And neither Bachmann nor most other Republican presidential contenders are calling for a repeal of the home-mortgage deduction.
Many of the subprime loans that inflated the housing bubble were not made by banks, but by mortgage companies that weren't regulated by the federal government. A big reason they made the loans was because they could profit by selling them to Wall Street investment banks, which made money by packaging them into securities and selling them.
Romney: Health Care must be repealed and replaced
Hanover, NH (AP) - Republican presidential primary candidate Mitt Romney says repealing Democrats' national health care plan is not enough. The former Massachusetts governor says Republicans have to be ready to replace it with something.
Romney said Tuesday he wants to do away with President Barack Obama's health care overhaul. He says that can't be the end of it, though.
Romney and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are debating how to best do away with the law. Romney says all of his rivals owe it to voters to put forward a plan to help more Americans get health care, but one based on free markets.
The comments were made during the Bloomberg-Washington Post presidential primary debate held at Dartmouth College.
Huntsman promises fellow Mormon not raise faith
Hanover, NH (AP) - Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman is joking that he won't bring up faith in a debate with fellow Mormon and rival for the Republican presidential nomination Mitt Romney.
Their Mormon faith became a flashpoint during the contest after a supporter of Texas Gov. Rick Perry likened it to a "cult." Romney has called on Perry "to repudiate the sentiment and the remarks made by that pastor;" Perry has refused.
Huntsman opened his question during Monday night's debate on the economy by promising not to interject the issue. He then turned to Perry and chuckled, "Sorry, Rick."
Evangelical Christians are skeptical about Mormons and proved a hurdle during Romney's first presidential run in 2008.
Bachmann questions Perry on spending
Hanover, NH (AP) - Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is questioning Texas Gov. Rick Perry's record on spending. She asks Perry "how can we trust you to not go down the Obama way?"
Perry says he was able to lower Texas' amount of debt per capita since he became governor.
Bachmann also noted in her question that Perry supported Democrat Al Gore's presidential campaign in 1988. Perry says he became a Republican at a younger age than President Ronald Reagan did.
The candidates made their comments during the Bloomberg-Washington Post Republican presidential primary debate at Dartmouth College.
Bachmann: Cain 9-9-9 idea a tax, not jobs, plan
Hanover, NH (AP) - Republican presidential primary candidate Michele Bachmann is joking that when rival Herman Cain's 9-9-9 tax plan, when turned on its head, represents the Devil.
Bachmann joked that the mirror of 9-9-9 looks like 6-6-6, Satan's number, during Tuesday night's debate. She says "the Devil's in the details" with his economic plan and isn't a viable option.
The Minnesota congresswoman says that Cain's proposal is not a jobs plan, but rather a tax plan.
Cain is a Georgia business executive who has never held elective office. He's has proposed replacing the current tax code with a 9 percent sales tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent income tax.
Romney tough talks China as currency manipulator
Hanover, NH (AP) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney says he will confront China for undervaluing its currency and hurting American jobs.
Romney says if he's elected he'll identify China as a currency manipulator and bring action with the World Trade Organization.
Romney says that if the U.S. isn't willing to stand up to China, "you'll get run over by China." He says the U.S. needs to "call cheating for what it is."
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman cautions that the tough tactics could lead to a trade war with China, which would hurt small businesses.
Huntsman is the former U.S. ambassador to China. He says the nation has no choice but to find common ground with China.
Romney defends 2008 Wall Street bailout
Hanover, NH (AP) - Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is defending the 2008 bailout of Wall Street banks, saying it was essential to preserving the nation's currency and financial system from collapse.
Romney said the U.S. could have had a "complete meltdown of our entire financial system." He said "action had to be taken. Was it perfect? No."
Asked if he would support another bailout, Romney said that if he thought the entire financial system would collapse, "you take action to keep that from happening."
But he said he opposed bailing out individual companies, citing his opposition to the bailout of automaker General Motors.
Romney made his statement during the Bloomberg-Washington Post presidential debate at Dartmouth University.
Huntsman: I thought '9-9-9' was pizza price
Hanover, NH (AP) - Republican presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman says he first thought rival Herman Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan was a pizza price, not a real economic proposal.
Utah's former governor said during Monday's candidates' debate that he isn't open to Cain's plan to replace the current tax code with a national 9 percent sales tax, 9 percent income tax and a 9 corporate tax. Huntsman says he needs something "doable, doable, doable" over the "9-9-9" idea.
Huntsman says Cain's proposal is "a catchy phrase. I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it."
Cain is the former chief executive of Godfather's Pizza. He says his proposal would be easier, fairer and would cut taxes for Americans.