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  • JIM LEHRER: Good evening from the Magness Arena at the University of Denver in Denver,

  • Colorado. I'm Jim Lehrer of the PBS NewsHour, and I welcome you to the first of the 2012

  • presidential debates between President Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, and former

  • Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee.

  • This debate and the next threetwo presidential, one vice- presidentialare sponsored by

  • the Commission on Presidential Debates.

  • Tonight's 90 minutes will be about domestic issues, and will follow a format designed

  • by the commission. There will be six roughly 15-minute segments, with two-minute answers

  • for the first question, then open discussion for the remainder of each segment.

  • Thousands of people offered suggestions on segment subjects of questions via the Internet

  • and other means, but I made the final selections, and for the record, they were not submitted

  • for approval to the commission or the candidates.

  • The segments, as I announced in advance, will be three on the economy and one each on health

  • care, the role of government, and governing, with an emphasis throughout on differences,

  • specifics and choices. Both candidates will also have two-minute closing statements.

  • The audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent. No cheers, applause, boos,

  • hissesamong other noisy distracting thingsso we may all concentrate on what the

  • candidates have to say. There is a noise exception right now, though, as we welcome President

  • Obama and Governor Romney. (Cheers, applause.)

  • Gentlemen, welcome to you both.

  • Let's start the economy, segment one. And let's begin with jobs. What are the major

  • differences between the two of you about how you would go about creating new jobs? You

  • have two minuteseach of you have two minutes to start. The coin toss has determined,

  • Mr. President, you go first.

  • PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Well, thank you very much, Jim, for this opportunity. I want to

  • thank Governor Romney and the University of Denver for your hospitality.

  • There are a lot of points that I want to make tonight, but the most important one is that

  • 20 years ago I became the luckiest man on earth because Michelle Obama agreed to marry

  • me. (Laughter.) And so I just want to wish, Sweetie, you happy anniversary and let you

  • know that a year from now, we will not be celebrating it in front of 40 million people.

  • (Laughter.)

  • You know, four years ago we went through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

  • Millions of jobs were lost. The auto industry was on the brink of collapse. The financial

  • system had frozen up. And because of the resilience and the determination of the American people,

  • we've begun to fight our way back.

  • Over the last 30 months, we've seen 5 million jobs in the private sector created. The auto

  • industry has come roaring back and housing has begun to rise. But we all know that we've

  • still got a lot of work to do. And so the question here tonight is not where we've been

  • but where we're going. Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes, skewed

  • towards the wealthy, and roll back regulations that we'll be better off.

  • I've got a different view. I think we've got to invest in education and training. I think

  • it's important for us to develop new sources of energy here in America, that we change

  • our tax code to make sure that we're helping small businesses and companies that are investing

  • here in the United States, that we take some of the money that we're saving as we wind

  • down two wars to rebuild America and that we reduce our deficit in a balanced way that

  • allows us to make these critical investments.

  • Now, it ultimately is going to be up to the voters, to you, which path we should take.

  • Are we going to double down on the top-down economic policies that helped to get us into

  • this mess, or do we embrace a new economic patriotism that says, America does best when

  • the middle class does best? And I'm looking forward to having that debate.

  • MR. LEHRER: Governor Romney, two minutes.

  • MR. ROMNEY: Thank you, Jim. It's an honor to be here with you, and I appreciate the

  • chance to be with the president. I am pleased to be at the University of Denver, appreciate

  • their welcome and also the presidential commission on these debates.

  • And congratulations to you, Mr. President, on your anniversary. I'm sure this was the

  • most romantic place you could imagine herehere with me, so I — (laughter) — congratulations.

  • This is obviously a very tender topic. I've had the occasion over the last couple of years

  • of meeting people across the country. I was in Dayton, Ohio, and a woman grabbed my arm,

  • and she said, I've been out of work since May. Can you help me?

  • Ann yesterday was a rally in Denver, and a woman came up to her with a baby in her arms

  • and said, Ann, my husband has had four jobs in three years, part-time jobs. He's lost

  • his most recent job, and we've now just lost our home. Can you help us?

  • And the answer is yes, we can help, but it's going to take a different path, not the one

  • we've been on, not the one the president describes as a top-down, cut taxes for the rich. That's

  • not what I'm going to do.

  • My plan has five basic parts. One, get us energy independent, North American energy

  • independent. That creates about four million jobs. Number two, open up more trade, particularly

  • in Latin America; crack down on China if and when they cheat. Number three, make sure our

  • people have the skills they need to succeed and the best schools in the world. We're far

  • away from that now. Number four, get us to a balanced budget. Number five, champion small

  • business.

  • It's small business that creates the jobs in America. And over the last four years small-business

  • people have decided that America may not be the place to open a new business, because

  • new business startups are down to a 30-year low. I know what it takes to get small business

  • growing again, to hire people.

  • Now, I'm concerned that the path that we're on has just been unsuccessful. The president

  • has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger

  • government, spending more, taxing more, regulating moreif you will, trickle-down government

  • would work. That's not the right answer for America. I'll restore the vitality that gets

  • America working again.

  • Thank you.

  • MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, please respond directly to what the governor just said about

  • trickle-downhis trickle-down approach. He's — as he said yours is.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, let me talk specifically about what I think we need to do.

  • First, we've got to improve our education system. And we've made enormous progress drawing

  • on ideas both from Democrats and Republicans that are already starting to show gains in

  • some of the toughest-to- deal-with schools. We've got a program called Race to the Top

  • that has prompted reforms in 46 states around the country, raising standards, improving

  • how we train teachers. So now I want to hire another hundred thousand new math and science

  • teachers and create 2 million more slots in our community colleges so that people can

  • get trained for the jobs that are out there right now. And I want to make sure that we

  • keep tuition low for our young people.

  • When it comes to our tax code, Governor Romney and I both agree that our corporate tax rate

  • is too high. So I want to lower it, particularly for manufacturing, taking it down to 25 percent.

  • But I also want to close those loopholes that are giving incentives for companies that are

  • shipping jobs overseas. I want to provide tax breaks for companies that are investing

  • here in the United States.

  • On energy, Governor Romney and I, we both agree that we've got to boost American energy

  • production.

  • And oil and natural gas production are higher than they've been in years. But I also believe

  • that we've got to look at the energy source of the future, like wind and solar and biofuels,

  • and make those investments.

  • So, all of this is possible. Now, in order for us to do it, we do have to close our deficit,

  • and one of the things I'm sure we'll be discussing tonight is, how do we deal with our tax code,

  • and how do we make sure that we are reducing spending in a responsible way, but also how

  • do we have enough revenue to make those investments? And this is where there's a difference because

  • Governor Romney's central economic plan calls for a $5 trillion tax cut, on top of the extension

  • of the Bush tax cuts, so that's another $2 trillion, and $2 trillion in additional military

  • spending that the military hasn't asked for. That's $8 trillion. How we pay for that, reduce

  • the deficit and make the investments that we need to make without dumping those costs

  • on the middle-class Americans I think is one of the central questions of this campaign.

  • MR. LEHRER: Both of you have spoken about a lot of different things, and we're going

  • to try to get through them in as specific a way as we possibly can.

  • But first, Governor Romney, do you have a question that you'd like to ask the president

  • directly about something he just said?

  • MR. ROMNEY: Well, sure. I'd like to clear up the record and go through it piece by piece.

  • First of all, I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I don't have a tax cut of a scale that

  • you're talking about. My view is that we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle

  • class. But I'm not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high- income people. High-income

  • people are doing just fine in this economy. They'll do fine whether you're president or

  • I am.

  • The people who are having the hard time right now are middle- income Americans. Under the

  • president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They'rethey're just

  • being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This

  • is a — this is a tax in and of itself. I'll call it the economy tax. It's been crushing.

  • The same time, gasoline prices have doubled under the president, electric rates are up,

  • food prices are up, health care costs have gone up by $2,500 a family.

  • Middle-income families are being crushed. And so the question is how to get them going

  • again, and I've described it. It's energy and trade, the right kind of training programs,

  • balancing our budget and helping small business. Those are thethe cornerstones of my plan.

  • But the president mentioned a couple of other ideas, and I'll just note: first, education.

  • I agree, education is key, particularly the future of our economy. But our training programs

  • right now, we got 47 of them housed in the federal government, reporting to eight different

  • agencies. Overhead is overwhelming. We got to get those dollars back to the states and

  • go to the workers so they can create their own pathways to getting the training they

  • need for jobs that will really help them.

  • The second area: taxation. We agree; we ought to bring the tax rates down, and I do, both

  • for corporations and for individuals. But in order for us not to lose revenue, have

  • the government run out of money, I also lower deductions and credits and exemptions so that

  • we keep taking in the same money when you also account for growth.

  • The third area: energy. Energy is critical, and the president pointed out correctly that

  • production of oil and gas in the U.S. is up. But not due to his policies. In spite of his

  • policies. Mr. President, all of the increase in natural gas and oil has happened on private

  • land, not on government land. On government land, your administration has cut the number

  • of permits and license in half. If I'm president, I'll double them. And also get thethe

  • oil from offshore and Alaska. And I'll bring that pipeline in from Canada.

  • And by the way, I like coal. I'm going to make sure we continue to burn clean coal.

  • People in the coal industry feel like it's getting crushed by your policies. I want to

  • get America and North America energy independent, so we can create those jobs.

  • And finally, with regards to that tax cut, look, I'm not looking to cut massive taxes

  • and to reduce thethe revenues going to the government. Mymy number one principle

  • is there'll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.

  • I want to underline thatno tax cut that adds to the deficit. But I do want to reduce

  • the burden being paid by middle-income Americans. And I — and to do that that also means that

  • I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income Americans. So anyany language to the

  • contrary is simply not accurate.

  • MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I thinklet's talk about taxes because I think it's instructive.

  • Now, four years ago when I stood on this stage I said that I would cut taxes for middle-class

  • families. And that's exactly what I did. We cut taxes for middle-class families by about

  • $3,600. And the reason is because I believe we do best when the middle class is doing

  • well.

  • And by giving them those tax cuts, they had a little more money in their pocket and so

  • maybe they can buy a new car. They are certainly in a better position to weather the extraordinary

  • recession that we went through. They can buy a computer for their kid who's going off to

  • college, which means they're spending more money, businesses have more customers, businesses

  • make more profits and then hire more workers.

  • Now, Governor Romney's proposal that he has been promoting for 18 months calls for a $5

  • trillion tax cut on top of $2 trillion of additional spending for our military. And

  • he is saying that he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions. The problem

  • is that he's been asked a — over a hundred times how you would close those deductions

  • and loopholes and he hasn't been able to identify them.

  • But I'm going to make an important point here, Jim.

  • MR. LEHRER: All right.

  • PRESIDENT OBAMA: When you add up all the loopholes and deductions that upper income individuals

  • canare currently taking advantage ofif you take those all awayyou don't

  • come close to paying for $5 trillion in tax cuts and $2 trillion in additional military

  • spending. And that's why independent studies looking at this said the only way to meet

  • Governor Romney's pledge of not reducing the deficitororor not adding to

  • the deficit, is by burdening middle-class families.

  • The average middle-class family with children would pay about $2,000 more. Now, that's not

  • my analysis; that's the analysis of economists who have looked at this. Andand that

  • kind of toptop-down economics, where folks at the top are doing well so the average

  • person making 3 million bucks is getting a $250,000 tax break while middle- class families

  • are burdened further, that's not what I believe is a recipe for economic growth.

  • MR. LEHRER: All right. What is the difference?

  • MR. ROMNEY: Well

  • MR. LEHRER: Let's just stay on taxes for

  • MR. ROMNEY: But I — but I — right, right.

  • MR. LEHRER: OK. Yeah, justlet's just stay on taxes for a moment.

  • MR. ROMNEY: Yeah. Well, butbut

  • MR. LEHRER: What is the difference?

  • MR. ROMNEY: — virtually everyvirtually everything he just said about my tax plan

  • is inaccurate.

  • MR. LEHRER: All right, go

  • MR. ROMNEY: Soso ifif the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to

  • support, I'd say absolutely not. I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I've said

  • is I won't put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit. That's part one. So there's

  • no economist can say Mitt Romney's tax plan adds 5 trillion (dollars) if I say I will

  • not add to the deficit with my tax plan.

  • Number two, I will not reduce the share paid by high-income individuals. I — I know that

  • you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it's a popular things to say with

  • a lot of people, but it's just not the case. Look, I got five boys. I'm used to people

  • saying something that's not always true, but just keep on repeating it and ultimately hoping

  • I'll believe it — (scattered laughter) — but thatthat is not the case, all right?

  • I will not reduce the taxes paid by high-income Americans.

  • And number three, I will not, under any circumstances, raise taxes on middle-income families. I will

  • lower taxes on middle-income families. Now, you cite a study. There are six other studies

  • that looked at the study you describe and say it's completely wrong. I saw a study that

  • came out today that said you're going to raise taxes by 3(,000 dollars) to $4,000 onon

  • middle-income families. There are all these studies out there.

  • But let's get to the bottom line. That is, I want to bring down rates. I want to bring

  • down the rates down, at the same time lower deductions and exemptions and credits and

  • so forth so we keep getting the revenue we need.

  • And you think, well, then why lower the rates? And the reason is because small business pays

  • that individual rate. Fifty-four percent of America's workers work in businesses that

  • are taxed not at the corporate tax rate but at the individual