Below, the complete transcript of the first 2012 presidential debate, as provided by the White House press office.
MR. LEHRER: Good evening from the Magness Arena at the University of Denver, in Denver, Colorado. I'm Jim Lehrer of the PBS News Hour, 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 three -- two presidential, one vice presidential -- are 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 2-minute answers for the first question, then open discussion for the remainder of each segment.
Thousands of people offered suggestions on segment subjects or 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 2-minute closing statements.
The audience here in the hall has promised to remain silent. No cheers, applause, boos, hisses, among other noisy, distracting things, so 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. (Applause.)
Gentlemen, welcome to you both. Let's start with 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 minutes -- each of you have two minutes to start. A coin toss has determined, Mr. President, you go first.
THE PRESIDENT: 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 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.)
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, ultimately, it’s 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.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Thank you, Jim. It’s an honor to be here with you, and I appreciate the chance to be with the President. I’m pleased to be at the University of Denver. I 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, here with me. (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 at 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 America energy independent. That creates about 4 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 are 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 more -- if 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-down, his trickle-down approach, as he said yours is.
THE PRESIDENT: 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 100,000 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 sources 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 -- that's another trillion dollars -- 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 onto 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?
GOVERNOR 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 the 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 a hard time right now are middle-income Americans. Under the President's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They're just being crushed. Middle-income Americans have seen their income come down by $4,300. This is a tax in and of itself. I'll call it the economy tax. It's been crushing.
At 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 the cornerstones of my plan.
But the President mentioned a couple of other ideas I'll just note. First, education. I agree education is key, particularly the future of our economy. But our training programs right now, we've got 47 of them housed in the federal government, reporting to eight different agencies. Overhead is overwhelming. We've got to get those dollars back to the states and go to the workers so they can create their own pathways to get in 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 and 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 licenses in half.
If I’m President, I’ll double them and also get the oil from offshore in Alaska, and I’ll bring that pipeline in from Canada. And by the way, I like coal. I’m going to make sure we can 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 the revenues going to the government. My number-one principle is there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that -- no tax cut that adds to the deficit. But I do want to reduce the burden being paid by middle-income Americans. And to do that, that also means I cannot reduce the burden paid by high-income Americans. So any language to the contrary is simply not accurate.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, let’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 that 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 is 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 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. When you add up all the loopholes and deductions that upper-income individuals are currently taking advantage of, you take those all away, you 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 deficit -- or 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. And that kind of top-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? Let’s just stay on taxes for a --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But I get -- right, right.
MR. LEHRER: Let’s just stay on taxes for a moment here.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Yes. Well, but virtually --
MR. LEHRER: What is the difference?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: -- virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: So if 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 who can say Mitt Romney’s tax plan adds $5 trillion 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 know that you and your running mate keep saying that, and I know it’s a popular thing to say with a lot of people, but it’s just not the case. Look, I’ve 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. (Laughter.) But that 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 described 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 to $4,000 on 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 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 tax rate. And if we lower that rate, they will be able to hire more people.
For me, this is about jobs. This is about getting jobs for the American people.
MR. LEHRER: All right, that’s where we started. Yes.
Do you challenge what the Governor just said about his own plan?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, for 18 months, he’s been running on this tax plan. And now, five weeks before the election, he’s saying that his big, bold idea is "never mind." And the fact is that if you are lowering the rates the way you described, Governor, then it is not possible to come up with enough deductions and loopholes that only affect high-income individuals to avoid either raising the deficit or burdening the middle class. It’s math. It’s arithmetic.
Now, Governor Romney and I do share a deep interest in encouraging small business growth. So at the same time that my tax plan has already lowered taxes for 98 percent of families, I also lowered taxes for small business 18 times. And what I want to do is continue the tax rates -- the tax cuts that we put into place for small businesses and families.
But I have said that for incomes over $250,000 a year that we should go back to the rates that we had when Bill Clinton was President, when we created 23 million new jobs, went from deficit to surplus, and created a whole lot of millionaires to boot. And the reason this is important is because by doing that, we can not only reduce the deficit, we can not only encourage job growth through small businesses, but we’re also able to make the investments that are necessary in education or in energy.
And we do have a difference, though, when it comes to definitions of small business. Under my plan, 97 percent of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up. Governor Romney says, well, those top 3 percent, they’re the job creators, they’d be burdened. But under Governor Romney’s definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses. Donald Trump is a small business -- and I know Donald Trump doesn’t like to think of himself as small anything. But that’s how you define small businesses if you’re getting business income.
And that kind of approach, I believe, will not grow our economy because the only way to pay for it without either burdening the middle class or blowing up our deficit is to make drastic cuts in things like education, making sure that we are continuing to invest in basic science and research -- all the things that are helping America grow. And I think that would be a mistake.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Jim, let me just come back on that point, which is these --
MR. LEHRER: Just for the record --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: -- small businesses we’re talking about --
MR. LEHRER: Excuse me, just so everybody understands, we’re way over our first 15 minutes.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: It’s fun, isn’t it?
MR. LEHRER: It’s okay. It’s great.
THE PRESIDENT: That’s okay.
MR. LEHRER: Great, no problem. As long as you all don’t have a problem, I don’t have a problem.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: That’s good.
MR. LEHRER: Because we’re still on the economy. We’re going to come back to taxes, and we’re going to move on to the deficit and a lot of other things, too. But go ahead, sir.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You bet. President, you’re -- Mr. President, you’re absolutely right, which is that with regards to 97 percent of the businesses are not taxed at the 35 percent tax rate, they’re taxed at a lower rate. But those businesses that are in the last 3 percent of businesses happen to employ half -- half -- of all the people who work in small business. Those are the businesses that employ one-quarter of all the workers in America. And your plan is to take their tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent.
Now, I talked to a guy who has a very small business. He’s in the electronics business in St. Louis. He has four employees. He said he and his son calculated how much they pay in taxes -- federal income tax, federal payroll tax, state income tax, state sales tax, state property tax, gasoline tax. It added up to well over 50 percent of what they earned. And your plan is to take the tax rate on successful small businesses from 35 percent to 40 percent. The National Federation of Independent Businesses has said that will cost 700,000 jobs.
I don’t want to cost jobs. My priority is jobs. And so what I do is I bring down the tax rates, lower deductions and exemptions -- the same idea behind Bowles-Simpson, by the way. Get the rates down, lower deductions and exemptions to create more jobs, because there’s nothing better for getting us to a balanced budget than having more people working, earning more money, paying more taxes. That’s by far the most effective and efficient way to get this budget balanced.
THE PRESIDENT: Jim, you may want to move on to another topic, but I would just say this to the American people: If you believe that we can cut taxes by $5 trillion and add $2 trillion in additional spending that the military is not asking for -- $7 trillion -- just to give you a sense, over 10 years, that’s more than our entire defense budget -- and you think that 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.
But I think math, common sense, and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth. Look, we’ve tried this -- we’ve tried both approaches. The approach that Governor Romney is talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003. And we ended up with the slowest job growth in 50 years. We ended up moving from surplus to deficits, and it all culminated in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.
Bill Clinton tried the approach that I’m talking about. We created 23 million new jobs. We went from deficit to surplus. And businesses did very well. So in some ways we’ve got some data on which approach is more likely to create jobs and opportunity for Americans. And I believe that the economy works best when middle-class families are getting tax breaks so that they’ve got some money in their pockets, and those of us who have done extraordinarily well because of this magnificent country that we live in, that we can afford to do a little bit more to make sure we’re not blowing up the deficit.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: The President began this segment, so I think I get the last word. So I’m going to take it.
MR. LEHRER: You’re going to get the first part in the next segment.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But he gets the first word of that segment. I get the last word of that segment -- well, I hope -- let me just make this comment.
MR. LEHRER: That's not how it works.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Let me repeat what I said. I’m not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That's not my plan. My plan is not to put in place any tax cut that will add to the deficit. That's point one. So you may keep referring to the $5 trillion tax cut, but that's not my plan.
Number two, let’s look at history. My plan is not like anything that's been tried before. My plan is to bring down rates but also bring down deductions and exemptions and credits at the same time, so the revenue stays in, but that we bring down rates to get more people working. My priority is putting people back to work in America. They’re suffering in this country.
And we talk about evidence. Look at the evidence of the last four years. It’s absolutely extraordinary. We’ve got 23 million people out of work or stopped looking for work in this country. It’s just -- we’ve got -- when the President took office, 32 million people on food stamps; 47 million on food stamps today; economic growth this year slower than last year; and last year slower than the year before. Going forward with the status quo is not going to cut it for the American people who are struggling today.
MR. LEHRER: All right, let’s talk -- we’re still on the economy. This is theoretically now a second segment, still on the economy, and specifically on what to do about the federal deficit, the federal debt. And the question -- you each have two minutes on this. And Governor Romney, you go first because the President went first on segment one.
And the question is this: What are the differences between the two of you as to how you would go about tackling the deficit problem in this country?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Good, I’m glad you raised that, and it’s a critical issue. I think it’s not just an economic issue. I think it’s a moral issue. I think it’s, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to passed on to the next generation, and they’re going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives. And the amount of debt we’re adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.
So how do we deal with it? Well, mathematically, there are three ways that you can cut a deficit. One, of course, is to raise taxes. Number two is to cut spending. And number three is to grow the economy, because if more people work in a growing economy, they’re paying taxes and you can get the job done that way.
The President would prefer raising taxes. I understand. The problem with raising taxes is that it slows down the rate of growth, and you can never quite get the job done. I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time.
What things would I cut from spending? Well, first of all, I will eliminate all programs by this test if they don't pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. Obamacare is on my list. I apologize, Mr. President. I use that term with all respect.
THE PRESIDENT: I like it.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Okay, good. So I’ll get rid of that. I’m sorry, Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too. But I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it. That's number one.
Number two, I’ll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state.
Number three, I’ll make government more efficient and cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way.
This is the approach we have to take to get America to a balanced budget. The President said he’d cut the deficit in half. Unfortunately, he doubled it -- trillion-dollar deficits for the last four years. The President has put in place as much public debt -- almost as much debt held by the public as all prior Presidents combined.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, two minutes.
THE PRESIDENT: When I walked into the Oval Office I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me, and we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for, and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for, and then a massive economic crisis.
And despite that, what we’ve said is, yes, we had to take some initial emergency measures to make sure we didn’t slip into a Great Depression, but what we’ve also said it let’s make sure that we are cutting out those things that are not helping us grow. So 77 government programs, everything from aircrafts that the Air Force had ordered but weren’t working very well, 18 government programs for education that were well intentioned but weren’t helping kids learn.
We went after medical fraud in Medicare and Medicaid very aggressively, more aggressively than ever before, and have saved tens of billions of dollars -- $50 billion of waste taken out of the system. And I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of our discretionary domestic budget. That’s the largest cut in the discretionary domestic budget since Dwight Eisenhower.
Now, we all know that we’ve got to do more, and so I put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It’s on a website, you can look at all the numbers -- what cuts we make and what revenue we raise. And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut we ask for $1 of additional revenue paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit.
Governor Romney earlier mentioned the Bowles-Simpson commission. Well, that’s how the commission -- bipartisan commission that talked about how we should move forward, suggested we have to do it -- in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts. And this is a major difference that Governor Romney and I have. Let me just finish this point because you’re looking for contrast.
When Governor Romney stood on a stage with other Republican candidates for the nomination, and he was asked, would you take $10 of spending cuts for just $1 of revenue? And he said no. Now, if you take such an unbalanced approach, then that means you are going to be gutting our investments in schools and education. It means that -- Governor Romney talked about Medicaid and how we could send it back to the states, but effectively, this means a 30 percent cut in the primary program we help for seniors who are in nursing homes, for kids who are with disabilities. And that is not a right strategy for us to move forward.
MR. LEHRER: Way over the two minutes.
THE PRESIDENT: Sorry.
MR. LEHRER: Governor, what about Simpson-Bowles? Will you support Simpson-Bowles?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Simpson-Bowles, the President should have grabbed that.
MR. LEHRER: I mean do you support Simpson-Bowles?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I have my own plan. It’s not the same as Simpson-Bowles. But in my view, the President should have grabbed it. If you wanted to make some adjustments to it, take it, go to Congress, fight for it.
THE PRESIDENT: That's what we’ve done, made some adjustments to it, and we’re putting it forward before Congress right now -- a $4 trillion plan --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But you’ve been -- but you’ve been President four years --
THE PRESIDENT: -- a balanced --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: You’ve been President four years. You said you’d cut the deficit in half. It’s now four years later; we still have trillion-dollar deficits. The CBO says we’ll have a trillion-dollar deficit each of the next four years. If you’re reelected we’ll get to a trillion-dollar debt. But you have said before you’d cut the deficit in half. And I love this idea of $4 trillion in cuts -- you found $4 trillion of ways to reduce or to get closer to a balanced budget, except we still show trillion-dollar deficits every year. That doesn't get the job done.
Let me come back and say, why is that I don't want to raise taxes? Why don't I want to raise taxes on people? And actually you said it. Back in 2010, you said, look, I’m going to extend the tax policies that we have. Now, I’m not going to raise taxes on anyone because when the economy is growing slow like this, when we’re in recession, you shouldn’t raise taxes on anyone. Well, the economy is still going slow. As a matter of fact, it’s growing much more slowly now than when you made that statement. And so if you believe the same thing, you just don't want to raise taxes on people.
And the reality is, it’s not just wealthy people -- you mentioned Donald Trump -- it’s not just Donald Trump you’re taxing. It’s all those businesses that employ one-quarter of the workers in America, these small businesses that are taxed as individuals. You raise taxes and you kill jobs. That's why the National Federation of Independent Businesses said your plan will kill 700,000 jobs. I don't want to kill jobs in this environment.
I’ll make one more point.
MR. LEHRER: Let’s let him answer the taxes thing for a moment.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Okay.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, we’ve had this discussion before --
MR. LEHRER: No, about the idea that in order to reduce the deficit there has to be revenue in addition to cuts.
THE PRESIDENT: There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue. He’s ruled out revenue.
MR. LEHRER: Is that --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Absolutely. Look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That's how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you’ll never get there. You never balance the budget by raising taxes. Spain -- Spain spends 42 percent of their total economy on government. We’re now spending 42 percent of our economy on government. I don't want to go down the path of Spain. I want to go down the path of growth that puts Americans to work with more money coming in because they're working.
MR. LEHRER: But, Mr. President, you’re saying in order to get the job done, it’s got to be balanced.
THE PRESIDENT: If we’re serious, we’ve got to take a balanced, responsible approach. And by the way, this is not just when it comes to individual taxes. Let’s talk about corporate taxes. Now, I’ve identified areas where we can right away make a change that I believe would actually help the economy. The oil industry gets $4 billion a year in corporate welfare. Basically, they get deductions that those small businesses that Governor Romney refers to, they don't get. Now, does anybody think that Exxon Mobil needs some extra money when they're making money every time you go to the pump?
Why wouldn’t we want to eliminate that? Why wouldn’t we eliminate tax breaks for corporate jets? My attitude is if you got a corporate jet, you can probably afford to pay full freight, not get a special break for it.
When it comes to corporate taxes, Governor Romney has said he wants to in a revenue-neutral way close loopholes, deductions -- he hasn’t identified which ones they are -- but thereby bring down the corporate rate. Well, I want to do the same thing, but I’ve actually identified how we can do that. And part of the way to do it is to not give tax breaks to companies that are shipping jobs overseas. Right now you can actually take a deduction for moving a plant overseas. I think most Americans would say that doesn't make sense. And all that raises revenue.
And so if we take a balanced approach, what that then allows us to do is also to help young people, the way we already have during my administration, make sure that they can afford to go to college. It means that the teacher that I met in Las Vegas, a wonderful young lady, who describes to me she's got 42 kids in her class. The first two weeks, she's got some of them sitting on the floor until finally they get reassigned. They're using textbooks that are 10 years old. That is not a recipe for growth. That's not how America was built.
And so budgets reflect choices. Ultimately, we're going to have to make some decisions. And if we're asking for no revenue, then that means that we've got to get rid of a whole bunch of stuff. And the magnitude of the tax cuts that you're talking about, Governor, would end up resulting in severe hardship for people, but more importantly, would not help us grow.
As I indicated before, when you talk about shifting Medicaid to states, we're talking about potentially a 30-percent cut in Medicaid over time. Now, that may not seem like a big deal when it just is numbers on a sheet of paper. But if we're talking about a family who's got an autistic kid and is depending on that Medicaid, that's a big problem. And governors are creative, there's no doubt about it. But they're not creative enough to make up for 30 percent of revenue on something like Medicaid. What ends up happening is some people end up not getting help.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Jim, we've gone on a lot of topics there. And so it's going to take a minute to go from Medicaid to schools --
MR. LEHRER: Come back to Medicaid, yes.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: -- to oil to tax breaks and companies going overseas. So let's go through them one by one.
First of all, the Department of Energy has said the tax break for oil companies is $2.8 billion a year. And it's actually an accounting treatment, as you know, that's been in place for a hundred years.
THE PRESIDENT: It's time to end it.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: And in one year, you provided $90 billion in breaks to the green-energy world. Now, I like green energy as well, but that's about 50 years' worth of what oil and gas receives. And you say Exxon and Mobil, actually those $2.8 billion goes largely to small companies, to drilling operators and so forth.
But you know if we get that tax rate from 35 percent down to 25 percent, why, that $2.8 billion is on the table. Of course it's on the table. That's probably not going to survive if you get that rate down to 25 percent. But don't forget, you put $90 billion -- like 50 years' worth of breaks -- into solar and wind -- to Solyndra and Fisker and Tesla and Ener1. I mean, I had a friend who said you don't just pick the winners and losers, you pick the losers. So this is not the kind of policy you want to have if you want to get America energy secure.
The second topic, which is you said you get a deduction for taking a plant overseas -- look, I've been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you're talking about. I maybe need to get a new accountant. But the idea that you get a break for shipping jobs overseas is simply not the case. What we do have right now is a setting where I'd like to bring money from overseas back to this country.
And finally, Medicaid to states -- I'm not quite sure where that came in except this, which is I would like to take the Medicaid dollars that go to states and say to a state, you're going to get what you got last year plus inflation, plus 1 percent. And then, you're going to manage your care for your poor in the way you think best.
And I remember as a governor, when this idea was floated by Tommy Thompson, the governors -- Republican and Democrats -- said, please let us do that. We can care for our own poor in so much better and more effective a way than having the federal government tell us how to care for our poor.
One of the magnificent things about this country is the whole idea that states are the laboratories of democracy. Don't have the federal government tell everybody what kind of training programs they have to have and what kind of Medicaid they have to have. Let states do this. And, by the way, if a state gets in trouble, well, we could step in and see if we could find a way to help them.
MR. LEHRER: Let's go.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But the right approach is one which relies on the brilliance of our people and states, not the federal government.
MR. LEHRER: We're going on -- still on the economy, but another part of it. All right, this is segment three, the economy. Entitlements, first answer goes to you -- two minutes, Mr. President. Do you see a major difference between the two of you on Social Security?
THE PRESIDENT: I suspect that on Social Security we’ve got a somewhat similar position. Social Security is structurally sound. It’s going to have to be tweaked the way it was by Ronald Reagan and Democratic Speaker Tip O’Neill. But the basic structure is sound.
But I want to talk about the values behind Social Security and Medicare, and then talk about Medicare because that’s the big driver of our deficits right now.
My grandmother, some of you know, helped to raise me -- my grandparents did. My grandfather died a while back. My grandmother died three days before I was elected President. And she was fiercely independent. She worked her way up -- only had a high school education, started as a secretary, ended up being the vice president of a local bank. And she ended up living alone by choice. And the reason she could be independent was because of Social Security and Medicare.
She had worked all her life, put in this money, and understood that there was a basic guarantee, a floor under which she could not go. And that’s the perspective I bring when I think about what’s called entitlements. The name itself implies some sense of dependency on the part of these folks. These are folks who've worked hard, like my grandmother, and there are millions of people out there who are counting on this.
So my approach is to say, how do we strengthen the system over the long term. And in Medicare, what we did was we said we are going to have to bring down the costs if we’re going to deal with our long-term deficits, but to do that let’s look where some of the money is going -- $716 billion we were able to save from the Medicare program by no longer overpaying insurance companies, by making sure that we weren’t overpaying providers, and using that money we were actually able to lower prescription drug costs for seniors by an average of $600, and we were also able to make a significant dent in providing them the kind of preventive care that will ultimately save money throughout the system.
So the way for us to deal with Medicare in particular is to lower health care costs. When it comes to Social Security, as I said, you don’t need a major structural change in order to make sure that Social Security is there for the future.
MR. LEHRER: We’ll follow up on this. First, Governor Romney, you have two minutes on Social Security and entitlements.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, Jim, our seniors depend on these programs, and I know any time we talk about entitlements people become concerned that something is going to happen that’s going to change their life for the worse. And the answer is, neither the President, nor I are proposing any changes for any current retirees or near-retirees, either to Social Security or Medicare. So if you’re 60 or around 60 or older, you don’t need to listen any further.
But for younger people we need to talk about what changes are going to be occurring -- oh, I just thought about one, and that is in fact I was wrong when I said the President isn’t proposing any changes for current retirees. In fact, he is on Medicare. On Social Security he’s not. But on Medicare, for current retirees, he’s cutting $716 billion from the program -- now, he says by not overpaying hospitals and providers, actually, just going to them and saying we’re going to reduce the rates you get paid across the board, everybody is going to get a lower rate. That saying we're cutting the rates. Some 15 percent of hospitals and nursing homes say they won't take any more Medicare patients under that scenario. We also have 50 percent of doctors who say they won't take more Medicare patients.
We have 4 million people on Medicare Advantage that will lose Medicare Advantage because of those $716 billion in cuts. I can't understand how you can cut Medicare $716 billion for current recipients in Medicare. Now, you point out, well, we're putting some back, we're going to give a better prescription program. That's $1 for every $15 you've cut. They're smart enough to know that's not a good trade.
I want to take that $716 billion you've cut and put it back into Medicare. By the way, we can include a prescription program if we need to improve it. But the idea of cutting $716 billion from Medicare to be able to balance the additional cost of Obamacare is, in my opinion, a mistake.
With regards to young people coming along, I've got proposals to make sure Medicare and Social Security are there for them without any question.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT: First of all, I think it's important for Governor Romney to present this plan that he says will only affect folks in the future. And the essence of the plan is that you would turn Medicare into a voucher program. It's called Premium Support, but it's understood to be a voucher program.
MR. LEHRER: And you don't support that?
THE PRESIDENT: I don't. And let me explain why.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Again, that's for future people --
THE PRESIDENT: I understand.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: -- not for current retirees.
THE PRESIDENT: So if you're 54 or 55, you might want to listen, because this will affect you.
The idea, which was originally presented by Congressman Ryan, your running mate, is that we would give a voucher to seniors and they could go out in the private marketplace and buy their own health insurance. The problem is that because the voucher wouldn't necessarily keep up with health care inflation, it was estimated that this would cost the average senior about $6,000 a year.
Now, in fairness, what Governor Romney has now said is he'll maintain traditional Medicare alongside it. But there's still a problem, because what happens is those insurance companies are pretty clever at figuring out who are the younger and healthier seniors. They recruit them, leaving the older, sicker seniors in Medicare, and every health care economist who looks at it says over time what will happen is the traditional Medicare system will collapse. And then what you've got is folks like my grandmother at the mercy of the private insurance system precisely at the time when they are most in need of decent health care.
So I don't think vouchers are the right way to go. And this is not my -- only my opinion. AARP thinks that the savings that we obtained from Medicare bolstered the system, lengthened the Medicare trust fund by eight years. Benefits were not affected at all.
And ironically, if you repeal Obamacare -- and I have become fond of this term, Obamacare -- (laughter) -- if you repeal it, what happens is those seniors right away are going to be paying $600 more in prescription care. They're now going to have to be paying co-pays for basic checkups that can keep them healthier. And the primary beneficiary of that repeal are insurance companies that are estimated to gain billions of dollars back when they aren’t making seniors any healthier. And I don't think that's the right approach when it comes to making sure that Medicare is stronger over the long term.
MR. LEHRER: We'll talk about -- specifically about health care in a moment. But do you support the voucher system, Governor?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: What I support is no change for current retirees and near-retirees to Medicare. And the President supports taking $716 billion out of that program.
MR. LEHRER: What about the voucher --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: So that's number one. Number two is, for people coming along that are young, what I'd do to make sure that we can keep Medicare in place for them is to allow them either to choose the current Medicare program or a private plan -- their choice. They get to -- and they'll have at least two plans that will be entirely at no cost to them. So they don't have to pay additional money, no additional $6,000 -- that's not going to happen. They'll have at least two plans.
And by the way, if the government can be as efficient as the private sector and offer premiums that are as low as the private sector, people will be happy to get traditional Medicare. Or they'll be able to get a private plan. I know my own view is I'd rather have a private plan. I know I’d just as soon not have the government telling me what kind of health care I get. I’d rather be able to have an insurance company. If I don't like them, I can get rid of them and find a different insurance company. Let people make their own choice.
The other thing we have to do to save Medicare, we have to have the benefits high for those that are low-income. But for higher-income people, we’re going to have to lower some of the benefits. We have to make sure this program is there for the long term.
That's the plan that I put forward. And by the way, the idea came not even from Paul Ryan or Senator Wyden, who is a co-author of the bill with Paul Ryan in the Senate, but also it came from Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff. This is an idea that's been around a long time, which is saying, hey, let’s see if we can't get competition into the Medicare world so that people can get the choice of different plans at lower cost, better quality. I believe in competition.
MR. LEHRER: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: Jim, if I can just respond very quickly. First of all, every study has shown that Medicare has lower administrative costs than private insurance does, which is why seniors are generally pretty happy with it. And private insurers have to make a profit. Nothing wrong with that, that's what they do. And so you’ve got higher administrative costs, plus profit on top of that, and if you are going to save any money through what Governor Romney is proposing, what has to happen is, is that the money has to come from somewhere.
And when you move to a voucher system, you are putting seniors at the mercy of those insurance companies. And over time, if traditional Medicare has decayed or fallen apart, then they're stuck. And this is the reason why AARP has said that your plan would weaken Medicare substantially. And that's why they were supportive of the approach that we took.
One last point I want to make: We do have to lower the cost of health care, not just in Medicare, but --
MR. LEHRER: We'll talk about that in a minute.
THE PRESIDENT: -- but overall.
MR. LEHRER: Okay.
THE PRESIDENT: And so --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: That's a big topic. Can we stay on Medicare?
THE PRESIDENT: Is that a separate topic?
MR. LEHRER: Yes, we’re going to -- yes, I want to get to it.
THE PRESIDENT: I’m sorry.
MR. LEHRER: But all I want to do is very quickly before we leave the economy --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Let’s get back to Medicare. Let’s get back to Medicare.
MR. LEHRER: Governor --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: The President said that the government can provide the service at lower cost and without a profit.
MR. LEHRER: All right.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: If that's the case, then it will always be the best product that people can purchase.
MR. LEHRER: Wait a minute, Governor. Wait a minute.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But my experience -- my experience is the private sector typically is able to provide a better product at a lower cost.
MR. LEHRER: Can we -- can the two of you agree that the voters have a choice, a clear choice between the two of you on Medicare?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Absolutely.
THE PRESIDENT: Yes.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Absolutely.
MR. LEHRER: All right. So, to finish quickly, briefly on the economy, what is your view about the level of federal regulation of the economy right now? Is there too much? And in your case, Mr. President, is there -- should there be more? Beginning with you -- this is not a new two-minute segment. Just start, and we’ll go for a few minutes, and then we’re going to go to health care, okay?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Regulation is essential. You can't have a free market work if you don't have regulation. As a businessperson, I had to have -- I needed to know the regulations. I needed them there. You could have people opening up banks in their garage and making loans. You have to have regulations so that you can have an economy work. Every free economy has good regulation. At the same time, regulation can become excessive.
MR. LEHRER: Is it excessive now, do you think?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: In some places, yes.
MR. LEHRER: Like where? Let me know.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Other places no. It can become out of date. And what’s happened with some of the legislation that's been passed during the President’s term, you’ve seen regulation become excessive and it’s hurt the -- it’s hurt the economy.
Let me give you an example. Dodd-Frank was passed, and it includes within it a number of provisions that I think has some unintended consequences that are harmful to the economy. One is it designates a number of banks as "too big to fail," and they're effectively guaranteed by the federal government. This is the biggest kiss that's been given to New York banks I’ve ever seen. This is an enormous boon for them. There have been -- 122 community and small banks have closed since Dodd-Frank. So there’s one example.
Here’s another. In Dodd-Frank, it says if --
MR. LEHRER: You want to repeal Dodd-Frank?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Well, I would repeal it and replace it. We’re not going to get rid of all regulation. You have to have regulation, and there are some parts of Dodd-Frank that make all the sense in the world. You need transparency. You need to have leverage limits for institutional --
MR. LEHRER: Well, there’s a specific --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: But let’s -- but let’s mention --
MR. LEHRER: Excuse me --
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Let me mention the other one. Let’s talk the other big one.
MR. LEHRER: No, let’s not.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Okay.
MR. LEHRER: Let’s let him respond -- let’s let him respond to this specific on Dodd-Frank and what the Governor just said.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think this is a great example. The reason we have been in such a enormous economic crisis was prompted by reckless behavior across the board. Now, it wasn’t just on Wall Street. You had loan officers that were giving loans and mortgages that really shouldn’t have been given because the folks didn't qualify. You had people who were borrowing money to buy a house that they couldn’t afford. You had credit agencies that were stamping these as A-1, great investments when they weren’t. But you also had banks making money hand over fist, churning out products that the bankers themselves didn’t even understand, in order to make big profits, but knowing that it made the entire system vulnerable.
So what did we do? We stepped in and had the toughest reforms on Wall Street since the 1930s. We said you’ve got -- banks, you’ve got to raise your capital requirements. You can’t engage in some of this risky behavior that is putting Main Street at risk. We’re going to make sure that you’ve got to have a living will, so we can know how you’re going to wind things down if you make a bad bet so we don’t have other taxpayer bailouts.
In the meantime, by the way, we also made sure that all the help that we provided those banks was paid back -- every single dime -- with interest.
Now, Governor Romney has said he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank, and I appreciate and it appears we’ve got some agreement that a marketplace, to work, has to have some regulation. But in the past, Governor Romney has said he just wants to repeal Dodd-Frank. Roll it back. And so the question is does anybody out there think that the big problem we had is that there was too much oversight and regulation of Wall Street? Because if you do, then Governor Romney is your candidate. But that’s not what I believe.
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: Sorry, Jim, but that’s just not the facts. Look, we have to have regulation on Wall Street. That’s why I’d have regulation. But I wouldn’t designate five banks as too big to fail and give them a blank check. That’s one of the unintended consequences of Dodd-Frank. It wasn’t thought through properly. We need to get rid of that provision because it’s killing regional and small banks. They’re getting hurt.
Let me mention another regulation in Dodd-Frank. You say we were giving mortgages to people who weren’t qualified. That’s exactly right. It’s one of the reasons for the great financial calamity we had. And so Dodd-Frank correctly says we need to have qualified mortgages, and if you give a mortgage that’s not qualified, there are big penalties -- except they didn’t ever go on to define what a qualified mortgage was. It’s been two years. We don’t know what a qualified mortgage is yet.
So banks are reluctant to make loans, mortgages. Try and get a mortgage these days. It’s hurt the housing market, because Dodd-Frank didn’t anticipate putting in place the kinds of regulations you have to have. It’s not that Dodd-Frank always was wrong with too much regulation. Sometimes they didn’t come out with a clear regulation.
I will make sure we don’t hurt the functioning of our marketplace and our businesses, because I want to bring back housing and get good jobs.
MR. LEHRER: All right. I think we have another clear difference between the two of you. Now let’s move to health care, where I know there is a clear difference, and that has to do with the Affordable Care Act -- Obamacare. And it’s a two-minute new segment, and that means two minutes each. And you go first, Governor Romney. You want it repealed. You want the Affordable Care Act repealed. Why?
GOVERNOR ROMNEY: I sure do. Well, in part it comes, again, from my experience. I was in New Hampshire; a woman came to me and she said, look, I can’t afford insurance for myself or my son. I met a couple in Appleton, Wisconsin, and they said, we’re thinking of dropping our insurance -- we can’t afford it. And the number of small businesses I’ve gone to that are saying they’re dropping insurance because they can’t afford it -- the cost of health care is just prohibitive, and we’ve got to deal with cost.
And unfortunately, when you look at Obamacare, the Congressional Budget Office has said it will cost $2,500 a year more than traditional insurance. So it’s adding to cost. And as a matter of fact, when the President ran for office, he said that by this year he would have brought down the cost of insurance for each family by $2,500 a family. Instead, it’s gone up by that amount. So it’s expensive. Expensive things hurt families. So that’s one reason I don’t want it.
Second reason, it cuts $716 billion from Medicare to pay for it. I want to put that money back in Medicare for our seniors.
Number three, it puts in place an unelected board that’s going to tell people ultimately what kind of treatments they can have. I don’t like that idea.
Fourth, there was a survey done of small businesses across the country. It said, what’s been the effect of Obamacare on your hiring plans? And three-quarters of them said, it makes us less likely to hire people. I just don’t know how the President could have come into office, facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.
And the best course for health care is to do what we did in my state -- craft a plan at the state level that fits the needs of the state, and then let’s focus on getting the cost down for people rather than raising it with a $2,500 additional premium.
MR. LEHRER: Mr. President, the argument against repeal.
THE PRESIDENT: Well, four years ago when I was running for office, I was traveling around and having those same conversations that Governor Romney talks about. And it wasn’t just that small businesses were seeing costs skyrocket and they couldn’t get affordable coverage even if they wanted to provide it to their employees. It wasn’t just that this was the biggest driver of our federal deficit, our overall health care cost. But it was families who were worried about going bankrupt if they got sick -- millions of families all across the country.
If they had a preexisting condition, they might not be able to get coverage at all. If they did have coverage, insurance companies might impose an arbitrary limit. And so, as a consequence, they’re paying their premiums; somebody gets really sick, lo and behold, they don’t have enough money to pay the bills because the insurance companies say that they’ve hit the limit.
So we did work on this, alongside working on jobs, because this is part of making sure that middle-class families are secure in this country. And let me tell you exactly what Obamacare did. Number one, if you’ve got health insurance it doesn’t mean a government takeover. You keep your own insurance. You keep your own doctor. But it does say insurance companies can’t jerk you around. They can’t impose arbitrary lifetime limits. They have to let you keep your kid on your insurance plan until you’re 26 years old. And it also says that you’re going to have to get rebates if insurance companies are spending more on administrative costs and profits than they are on actual care.
Number two, if you don’t have health insurance, we’re essentially setting up a group plan that allows you to benefit from group rates that are typically 18 percent lower than if you’re out there trying to get insurance on the individual market.
Now, the last point I’d make before --
MR. LEHRER: Two minutes is up, sir.
THE PRESIDENT: No, I think -- I had five seconds before you interrupted me. (Laughter.) The irony is that we’ve seen this model work really well in Massachusetts, because Governor Romney did a good thing, working with Democrats in the state, to set up what is essentially the identical model. And as consequence, people are covered there. It hasn’t destroyed jobs. And as a consequence, we now have a system in which we have the opportunity to start bringing down costs, as opposed to just leaving millions of people out in the cold.
MR. LEHRER: Your five seconds went away a long time ago. (Laughter.)
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