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The Trail: 2012 Presidential News from the Field / CAMPAIGN 2012

Romney, Obama Defend Economic Stances on '60 Minutes'

President says deficit largely attributable to policies he inherited, while rival explains lack of specifics on taxes.

photo of Adam  Mazmanian
September 23, 2012

In separate appearances on Sunday on CBS' 60 Minutes, Mitt Romney defended his decision not to include specifics in his tax plan, while President Obama blamed 90 percent of the rise in the budget deficit on policies that he inherited.

Romney outlined his policy for reforming the tax code, shrinking the size of government, changing the way entitlement programs operate, and outlined a doctrine for military intervention. Pressed by reporter Scott Pelley on why his tax plan didn’t include specifics on which deductions would be eliminated, Romney said that his position was consistent with his governing philosophy.

“[I]f you want to work together with people across the aisle, you lay out your principles and your policy, you work together with them,” Romney said. “But you don't hand them a complete document and say, ‘Here, take this or leave it.’ Look, leadership is not a take it-or-leave it thing. We’ve seen too much of that in Washington.”


On taxes, Romney promised that existing income tax brackets would be lowered by 20 percent, so that the top tax rate of 35 percent would be reduced to 28 percent. However, he said that upper-income taxpayers probably won’t be seeing an overall reduction in their tax bill because he also planned to eliminate deductions and exemptions.

On social programs and entitlements, Romney projects $100 billion in savings from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, $100 billion from shifting Medicaid to a system of block grants to the states, and institute major cuts to government programs. Romney’s standard will be to ask whether a “program [is] so critical, it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?”

Pelley tried to press Romney on his shift on the issue of abortion, from a pro-abortion rights stance as governor of Massachusetts, to an anti-abortion rights position as a candidate for president that would permit abortions only under rare circumstances – pregnancies that arise from rape or incest, or that threaten the health of the mother.

Romney said, “The principles I have are the principles I've had from the beginning of my political life. But have I learned? Have I found that some things I thought would be effective turned out not to be effective? Absolutely. If you don't learn from experience, you don't learn from your mistakes, why -- you know, you ought to be fired.”

Asked if the government has some obligation to provide health care to those who don’t have it, Romney said, “[I]f someone has a heart attack, they don't sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital and give them care. And different states have different ways of providing for that care.”

Obama defended his record in office, particularly on the growing debt and deficit, arguing that he assumed the presidency with the biggest deficit in history. He allowed that the deficit had gone up, but blamed two wars, his predecessor George W. Bush's tax cuts, the Republican-enacted prescription drug benefit under Medicare and the economic crisis.

“Now, we took some emergency actions,” Obama said, “But that accounts for about 10 percent of this increase in the deficit, and we have actually seen the federal government grow at a slower pace than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. In fact, substantially lower than the federal government grew under either Ronald Reagan or George Bush.”

If he wins re-election, Obama said he expects a smoother ride from Republicans in Congress for his second term, citing Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s oft-repeated pledge to make Obama a one-term president. “Now -- after the election -- either he will have succeeded in that goal or he will have failed at that goal … And I'm hoping that after the smoke clears and the election season's over that that spirit of cooperation comes more to the fore,” he said.

Romney said he isn’t worried about polling trends in key swing states, and alarm bells being raised by a few key conservative columnists, and he isn’t contemplating major changes to his campaign. Romney told 60 Minutes, “Well, [the campaign] doesn't need a turnaround. We've got a campaign which is tied with an incumbent president to the United States.”

Romney articulated his own doctrine for U.S. military intervention. Before committing troops to a conflict abroad, Romney would require a “substantial” U.S. interest be threatened, a clear mission with defined goals, that “overwhelming resources” be committed, and “a clear understanding of what will be left after we leave.” He also criticized Obama for announcing the timeline for getting U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, and for not scheduling a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu during the United Nations General Assembly next week.

Obama struck a sharper tone in defending his foreign policy record, and in attacking his rival. After recounting his accomplishments in killing al-Qaida head Osama Bin Laden and ending the war in Iraq, Obama told CBS reporter Steve Kroft, “[I]f Governor Romney is suggesting that we should start another war he should say so.”

Asked about the big idea animating his campaign, Obama said jobs, jobs and jobs. “I think what Americans properly are focused on right now are just the bread-and-butter basics of making sure our economy works for working people. And if we can accomplish that, there's no bigger idea than that.”

Romney touted liberty as the centerpiece of his campaign. He said, “I want people to come here, legally, to want to be here. I want the best and brightest to say America's the place of opportunity, because of the freedom there to pursue your dreams. So my message is restore the kind of freedom that allows America to lead the world.”


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