The President Recovers a Bit in a Wonky Debate

10:00: After a weak beginning, President Obama did well—or less badly—in the wonky weeds of Medicare and the deficit.

GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney attacks the president’s health care reform plan. His main critique: It’s raising premiums and preventing businesses from hiring people. It may be responsible for the latter but not for the former.

The president comes back and says health insurance premiums are rising more slowly than they have in the last 50 years.

Some of Romney’s criticisms are effective, but he’s stuck in a rut here—as the president said, Obamacare is Romneycare on a national level. Romney falls back on the argument that the federal government shouldn’t be telling states what to do and leave it all to free enterprise.

The president goes on the attack—He says he’s going to cut deductions and loopholes, but he doesn’t say how. Same thing for replacing Dodd-Frank and health care reform.

That’s Romney’s biggest problem, and the president is hitting him hard. Romney said “what we did in Massachusetts is a model for the nation, state by state.” But it’s a tough argument to make.

Jim Lehrer now asks about the fundamental differences between the two about the role of government.

The president says there are differences. The first role of government is to keep the nation safe. “But I also believe the federal government can create ladders of opportunity.” He praises the free enterprise system, but says Abraham Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War built the transcontinental railroad and started land-grant colleges. Those are the principles he wants to govern by.

Mitt Romney and President Obama with Jim Lehrer at the first presidential debate in Denver.


The federal government can help and make a difference, he says.

Romney: The role of government is to promote and protect the principles of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.

He believes in the pursuit of happiness and the right of individuals to pursue their own dreams—the government’s trickle-down philosophy is not working. He reels off a series of ways the government has failed: joblessness, food stamps, etc.

“We know the path we are taking is not working; it’s time to choose a new path.”

Jim Lehrer’s last question is how to end the partisanship that is hurting the country.

Romney says he’d sit down on the first day after the election with Republicans and Democrats. “We need leadership in Washington that can bring us together.” He said he did that in Massachusetts.

The president says he is open to ideas from Republicans, citing a series of things his administration has done with Republican cooperation. He says sometimes you have to fight for what you believe in.

“Part of leadership and governing…is being willing to say ‘no’” and he says Romney hasn’t done that with the extreme elements of his own party.

Final statements: The president goes back to the glory days of 2008 and the people he’s met. “The question is how do we build on those strengths?” He says he’s kept his promise to fight for the middle class and if you vote for him, he’d keep fighting for the middle class.

Romney: This is an important election. “There are two paths…but they leas in two very different directions.” He promises that if he’s elected, incomes will rise, there will be 12 million new jobs, Obamacare will be repealed and he will not cut the military budget. “I will keep America strong and get Americans working again.”

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