The first presidential debate between Democratic President Barack Obama and his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney, got underway at 9 PM on October 3rd at the University of Denver. Jim Lehrer, of PBS’ News Hour, moderated.
The principal focus of this first debate was domestic policy. Specific areas discussed included the economy, the role of government and the process of governing. In summary, the candidates made the following statements with President Obama opening the debate.
The president opened by discussing the stock market crash of 2008. He explained that over 5 million jobs were created in the recent 30 months, that housing is beginning to move forward and that taxes have been cut. Obama cited the “Race to the Top” program implemented in 46 states and the hiring of 100,000 new math and science teachers. In addition, he cited investments in wind and solar power energy.
The president stressed that he lowered taxes for small businesses 18 times and that 97 percent of small businesses have not seen their taxes increase. He criticized unfunded wars and explained his own cuts to discretionary spending of nearly a trillion dollars.
Obama went on to state that his $716 billion Medicare savings meant that insurance companies will no longer be overpaid for basic services. Instead, the Medicare savings will go for funding prescription drugs. He explained that putting Medicare under a voucher system could result in costing seniors a lot more. Ultimately, he described how Medicare does a better job of minimizing administrative costs than private enterprise. At bottom, a voucher system could put seniors at the mercy of insurers.
Obama pointed out that patients could keep their own insurance and that children could remain insured under a parental plan until age 26. He discussed how his plan would result in rebates and that group rate plans would drive costs down by 18 percent or more. Obama also pointed out that his plan was tried and worked well in Massachusetts without destroying jobs. He also praised the work of the Cleveland Clinic in reducing costs while providing quality healthcare. He fears that repealing Obamacare could result in 50 million people losing their insurance.
Obama stressed that budgets reflect choices. He fears that cutting taxes could result in also cutting things like education. Obama cited the efficiency of community colleges in crafting education programs that provide skills that employers need. He explained that his proposed education programs cut out banks as the middle men to provide more affordable student loans directly to students.
The president explained that if implemented, his programs would make the middle class stronger. His administration pushed through three trade deals which would result in higher exports. He cited the newly found pride auto workers have in building American cars again in record numbers.
As an aside, Obama told a story about how President Abraham Lincoln facilitated financing the Transcontinental Railroad and gateway colleges in the middle of the Civil War. He explained how the dual wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are either ended or winding down. Obama praised the fight to end the excesses on Wall Street and praised the Dodd/Frank legislation to regulate the financial sector.
Obama concluded by stating that he would fight every day on behalf of the American people. He praised the hiring of 100,000 new teachers and
pointed out that we would have a better work force as a result of this action.
Former Governor Romney opened by discussing the cornerstone of his programs which would include creating 4 million new jobs by pursuing energy independence, opening up more trade to Latin America, supporting education, balancing the federal budget and strengthening small business. Romney indicated that new business startups are down and that trickle-down government has not worked.
Romney explained that his programs will not add to the deficit. He stressed that he will not support decreasing taxes on the wealthy. Instead, his administration would cut taxes for the middle class. Romney indicated that 54 percent of the people work for small business. He criticized the Obama administration for increasing tax rates on small business from 35 percent to 40 percent. Romney explained that lowering tax rates for small business would grow the economy and balance the federal budget through more tax revenues.
Romney pointed out that he would not cut taxes that add to the deficit. He also decried the fact that the number of people on federal food stamps grew from 32 million to 47 million. He stressed that we cannot spend more than the government receives in tax revenues. He would lower spending, cut out Obamacare, cut some subsidies and increase government operational efficiency. He criticized Obama for accumulating more debt than all other previous presidents combined.
Romney took on a $2.8 billion tax break for oil companies and contrasted that with $90 billion of federal money that went to green energy. He noted that Obama picked losers like Solyndra. Romney would like to send Medicaid money back to the individual states who could then spend the money more prudently.
Romney indicated that the Ryan/Wyden plan would result in no change for current retirees or people near retirement. He pointed out that the Obama plan to cut $716 billion from Medicare would result in physicians opting out of the program. He wants the Medicare program to be there for younger people too. Romney would repeal Obamacare because it would cost over $2500 more for insurance than current pricing. In addition, he fears having an unelected Independent Payment Advisory Board of people who might disturb the relationship between physicians and their patients. Romney believes that the private sector could provide better choices for people.
Romney indicated that consumers need transparency in the financial sector, as well as limits on leveraging transactions on Wall Street. He believes that the Dodd/Frank legislation is too much regulation. In addition, Romney criticized the idea of banks being too big to fail.
Romney praised what he did for health care in Massachusetts without raising taxes or putting into place an advisory board. He noted that in Massachusetts he had worked with a legislature composed almost exclusively of Democrats. He declared that people with pre-existing conditions would be covered under the Ryan/Wyden Plan, as will young adults, on their parents’ plan, until age 26. Romney pointed out that the Cleveland Clinic positive experience is a private sector achievement. He asserted that government should not direct doctors and tell them how to treat patients.
Romney pointed out how President Reagan reduced tax rates to grow the economy. He explained that great schools like those in Massachusetts, rated first in the nation, are needed. He cited the Declaration of Independence and the need to protect life, liberty, religious freedom, care for the elderly and the pursuit of happiness. Romney would like individuals to have the right to pursue their dreams. He decried the fact that 23 million people are out of work and that 50 percent of college graduates cannot find work. He would like federal funds to follow each child rather than an allocation to a bureaucracy alone. Romney would not cut funding for education.
The debate closed with the candidates being greeted on stage by family members. Both President Obama and former Governor Romney performed well in the first debate. Neither candidate stumbled in any major way.
The candidates do differ in their approach to government. President Obama believes that the government has a role to play in health care, education and regulating financial institutions. Former Governor Romney believes that financial institutions need some regulation in areas like transparency and leveraging limits. He would put more Medicaid money directly into the hands of the states, as opposed to the federal government. In addition, he would not cut taxes for the rich. Instead, he would cut taxes for middle class small businesses.