US President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney clashed over the economy Wednesday in a highly anticipated debate just weeks before the November 6 presidential election.
The standoff in Denver, Colorado, featured spirited exchanges but no discernible blunders by either candidate. Romney, who trailed the incumbent by more than 3 percentage points in national polls entering the debate, attacked hard and often, while Obama appeared restrained throughout the evening.
The debate’s most energetic exchanges revolved around taxes, with Romney saying the president’s plan to raise taxes on wealthier Americans would deal a paralyzing blow to small businesses and economic growth.
“The idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work—you’ll never get there,” Romney said. “You never balance the budget by raising taxes.”
Romney invoked Spain’s reeling economy as a warning of where Obama’s economic policies could lead.
“Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government,” Romney said. “We’re now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don’t want to go down the path to Spain.”
Obama defended his record in light of the catastrophic state of the economy he inherited from his Republican predecessor, George W. Bush. He portrayed Romney’s economic proposals as mathematically unsound and as a tax giveaway to the richest Americans at the expense of the middle class.
The incumbent assailed Romney’s proposals to reduce the deficit by eliminating loopholes for the wealthy rather than asking them to pay the same tax rate they paid under the Clinton administration in the 1990s.
“If you think by closing loopholes and deductions for the well-to-do, somehow you will not end up picking up the tab, then Governor Romney’s plan may work for you,” Obama told the audience. “But I think math, common sense, and our history, shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth.”
The candidates tangled over several other domestic issues, including the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature health care reform that Romney has vowed to repeal should he capture the White House.
Romney hammered the bill as a federal overreach that will result in the government “telling a patient and a doctor what kind of treatment they can have.”
“That’s the wrong way to go,” Romney said. “The private market and individual responsibility always work best.”
Obama, meanwhile, staunchly defended the bill and highlighted some of its more popular features, such as a provision preventing health care companies from denying coverage based on an individual’s pre-existing condition.
The president also noted the legislation’s similarity to the health care reform legislation signed into law by Romney when he served as governor of Massachusetts.
“We used the same advisers, and they said it’s the same plan,” Obama said. “… The reason [Romney] set up the system in Massachusetts is there isn’t a better way of dealing with a pre-existing condition problem."
As the two entered the fray over health care, Romney offered an apology for using the term “ObamaCare” to describe the law. The term is widely used in a derogatory context by the US president’s opponents.
“I use that term with all respect, by the way,” Romney said.
“I like it,” Obama quipped in response