US election: Obama and Romney debate economy in Denver


In their closing statements, Barack Obama and Mitt Romney sum up what they would bring to the role if elected president

US President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney have clashed sharply over their economic plans in the first of three televised debates.

Over 90 minutes, the men jousted over their positions on taxes, healthcare reform and the role of government.

Mr Romney said his rival favoured "trickle-down government" while the president said Mr Romney would "double down" on Bush-era economic policies.

Mr Obama has opened up a narrow lead in the race over the past month.

The president is ahead of Mr Romney in national polls and in many recent polls conducted in the swing states that will decide the election.

The debate was seen as a crucial chance for Mr Romney to regain momentum after a series of tough weeks on the campaign trail.

Mitt Romney had been practising hard. And it paid off. He was animated, in command of his information, overriding the moderator and interrupting the president. He seemed to be in charge and enjoying the scrap.

On the other hand, President Obama started out looking very nervous, and although he warmed up and got into his stride, he ended up giving overlong, mini-lectures straight to camera rather than engaging and arguing.

He seemed unwilling to actually debate with his opponent and missed a few obvious openings when he should have challenged. This may be deliberate. Perhaps his team decided that he shouldn't get riled, so it was best not to get into a fight. If so, he held back too much.

If Mr Romney clearly won this debate, in terms of style at least, he can't celebrate too hard just yet. If the polls don't move after a win, then he really is in trouble.

"The president has a view very similar to the one he had when he ran for office four years ago, that spending more, taxing more, regulating more - if you will, trickle-down government - would work," Mr Romney said.

"That's not the right answer for America."

Mr Romney pledged not to reduce taxes for wealthy Americans, and said Mr Obama had misrepresented his tax plans on the campaign trail.

He hit out at the president for failing to cut the budget deficit in half as he pledged in 2008, and insisted that the US must not allow itself to go down the path of Greece or Spain.

Clashing repeatedly with moderator Jim Lehrer over the time clock, Mr Romney said that in order to reduce the US budget deficit he would repeal Mr Obama's 2010 healthcare law and cut subsidies to US public television, among other unspecified programmes.

And Mr Romney assailed Mr Obama over his plans to eliminate overseas tax breaks, telling him he had "picked losers" by funnelling money into failing companies.

Romney plan 'unbalanced'

Mr Obama deflected criticism of his fiscal management, highlighting Mr Romney's primary-season pledge not to raise taxes.

The president characterised Mr Romney's approach to deficit reduction as "unbalanced".

The rules

Jim Lehrer
  • Starts 21:00 EST (02:00 BST) on Wednesday 3 October in Denver, Colorado; lasts 90 minutes
  • Focused on domestic policy
  • Moderator is Jim Lehrer of PBS NewsHour (above)
  • Six 15-minute sections on economy, healthcare, role of government and governing
  • Each section begins with question from moderator, candidates have two minutes to respond. The remaining time is given over to discussion.

"There has to be revenue in addition to cuts," Mr Obama said, calling for an end to "corporate welfare" tax breaks for oil companies and corporate jets.

"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," he said.

"But I think math, common sense, and our history, shows us that's not a recipe for job growth."

With Mr Lehrer, the moderator, occasionally failing to stop the candidates sparring over details, the two men eventually agreed to disagree over the future of Medicare, the government healthcare scheme for over-65s.

Also on healthcare, Mr Romney said that Mr Obama's "Obamacare" reform law of 2010 had increased health costs and kept small businesses from hiring.

He questioned why the president had spent so much time and political energy pushing that reform early in his tenure rather than repairing the economy and creating jobs. And he noted the law passed with no Republican support.

But Mr Romney reprised disputed claims that the president's law cut $716bn from Medicare.

"I want to take that $716bn you've cut and put it back into patients," he said.

Yet Mr Romney praised and defended a plan he himself had previously signed as governor of Massachusetts that is widely hailed as the model for Mr Obama's law.

Mr Obama, meanwhile, said he had been moved to push for the law by stories of voters' healthcare woes and that his plan had kept insurance companies from cutting off coverage from sick people.

"This was a bipartisan idea, in fact this was a Republican idea," Mr Obama said, adding he was now proud of the once-derisive nickname "Obamacare".

Virtual strangers

Mr Romney was animated, in command of his information, overriding the moderator and interrupting the president, says BBC North America editor Mark Mardell.

On the other hand, President Obama started out looking nervous, and although he warmed up and found his stride he gave long, mini-lectures rather than engaging and arguing, our correspondent says.

Wednesday's debate at the University of Denver was the first time voters across the US had the chance to see Mr Obama and Mr Romney on stage together.

Despite the long presidential campaign, the pair are virtual strangers and have met just three or four times in the past.

Presidential debates 2012

  • 3 Oct Denver, Colorado. Domestic policy. Moderated by Jim Lehrer (PBS)
  • 11 Oct Danville, Kentucky. Vice-presidential debate. Moderated by Martha Raddatz (ABC)
  • 16 Oct Hempstead, New York. Town-hall style foreign policy debate. Moderator: Candy Crowley (CNN)
  • 22 Oct Boca Raton, Florida. Moderator: Bob Schieffer (CBS)

Commission on Presidential Debates

Mr Romney's campaign message is that Mr Obama's stewardship of the US economy has been a dismal failure. He points to an enduringly high unemployment rate (currently 8.1%) and poor job growth, and says his experience in business will turn the US economy around.

Mr Obama, by contrast, says his opponent offers little except a rehashing of the "failed" Republican policies that caused the economic crash of 2008.

The president proposes tax rises for the wealthiest Americans to help reduce the federal budget deficit, and says his opponent's plans would hurt the middle class.

But critics say neither man has fully fleshed out his economic policies, and doubts remains about how either Republican or Democrat would tackle the $15tn (£9.3tn) US debt.


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US Presidential Election 2012

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  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    Obama may not have had the cowboy-machismo arrogance in his style of debate, but he did stick to facts. Romney experienced beginners luck and based much of his ideas on those of former President Reagan, expressing not one original though of his own. I dare say that Obama will "win" the next
    debate. I am also sure that Paul Ryan will undo any good work Romney did tonight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    New president for America? New conflict abroad?

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    15. err_ok

    The media will go away & fact check all the bizarre 'facts'

    Romney was able to do his own fact checking tonight of Obama's facts. He challenged many of them.

    All the other professional fact checkers will be focused on Romney, like white on rice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    Obama "performance" was horrendous. The dry professor at his worst. Have to give it to Romney, he debated and argued and Obama lectured. Obama looked uncomfortable and as if he wished to be somewhere else...just like George HW Bush in 1992. Only thing he didn't do is look at his watch. Definitely Romney's night.

  • rate this

    Comment number 24.

    Obama was specific on the details and brought it all back into the light, where Mitt didn't bother to bring out the specifics on what his plans were going to be. Obama did a job well done and I am so grateful for what he has done for us all. Mitt displayed his CEO behavior but that did not impress me just like his debate no specifics.

  • rate this

    Comment number 23.

    Get rid of Jim Lehrer and get somebody who actually has the gumption to moderate a debate. Betty Boothroyd, for one comes to mind. Taking the first section when asked if he had a question for the President, Romney gave us a 6 or 7 minute unchallenged diatribe without actually asking a single question!

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    @ AndreaNY 19. I too heard few pundits that Obama was not aggressive as part of his strategy. But I personally would liked him otherwise. His "timidness" may reflect negatively to many novice or semi-educated voters who understand facts & logic less & do not follow politics keenly.
    It's the GOP who refused to agree to Obama on ANY issue frm the day 1 in his presidency unlike Dems in Mass of MR.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    I despise Romney and all he stands for, but he knocked it out of the park tonight and made Obama look like an unprepared novice. He (Romney) will certainly have made a quixotic argument for the vacuous undecideds. Romney was prepared and rehearsed, with a smattering of NLP statements (planted into his shtick by his overpaid consultants). Obama looked defeated from the first question.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    Romney had the better presentation in this particular debate. But I get a sneaking feeling if Romney makes presidency a cold fanatic will emerge with once hidden cards up his sleeve unleashed on the people of America and the world as a whole.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    7. Jay
    I want Obama in his natural mood with more aggression

    One pundit thought Obama didn't go after Romney because he didn't want to negatively impact his "likability" rating.

    11. sayasay

    The biggest hit was Romney's talking about bipartisanship -- his, not Obama's. Obama did a decent job defending his party's refusal to deal with republicans, calling it principled.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    Mitt did not say ANY detail of his plans, as expected. All detail are in the cloud or "too good to tell".
    But I must say that Mitt did a nice flip flop this time too- but in a more likable way, more pro-people way. I'm not sure if he really mean what he said today that OR will do his flip flip once elected!
    Obama allowed him too much space too.I want Obama more aggressive with 47% & other issues.

  • rate this

    Comment number 17.

    Both were disrespectful of the 2 minute rule (hope they do better in the next debate). Content: I give it to Obama for three reasons: (1) Romney was more aggressive BUT needed the debate to be a "game-changer" whereas Obama only needed a tie; (2) Obama made Romney own the master plan for "Obamacare"; (3) The silly thing about "I will close PBS and "like big bird" will come and get him.

  • rate this

    Comment number 16.

    I wanted to see Green Party / Independent candidates as well in the debate. They never the chance to reach the public to put their message across through main stream media & challenge the main party(ies) candidates.... isn't it biased ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 15.

    Romney appears to have come out on top.

    The media will go away & fact check all the bizarre 'facts' he referenced. Then coverage over the next week will be of all the 'plain faced lies' he told. This will send all those "undecided" voters who moved into the Romney camp back to "undecided".

    Camp Romney will decry the media claiming they're under the control of camp Obama.

    Pretty dull debate...

  • rate this

    Comment number 14.

    @crawf, that's because he's a weakling internationally and those countries think they have better control over someone who wants to be every nation's friend. But to be honest Americans couldn't care less what other nations want. We're the ones who have to live saddled with trillions in extra debt.

  • rate this

    Comment number 13.

    This was vintage Obama with facts at his finger-tips. Obama in his characteristic, methodical way remained Presidential with facts at his finger-tips.Obama did not give Romney too many chances to make many in-roads. But Romney did try hard and it was a valiant effort. Of course this will make the other debates even more gripping. Nothing should be taken for granted! These debates are critical.

  • rate this

    Comment number 12.

    Romney was just talking while Obama was debating. That was the difference between the two.
    Des Currie

  • rate this

    Comment number 11.

    As in my prev. 208.
    Obama is a man whose (1) policies failed, hence, no pugnacious defense from him (2) potential energy is lost, he had spend it all kinetically in the 1st Term and (3) in‘shock and awe’ at Romney's aggressiveness.
    O’s is the lame duck. Romney is the hunter. If some voters cannot detect the ‘insurgency’ of Romney, then, they must belong to the 47%.

  • rate this

    Comment number 10.

    1. Crawf

    Everybody in Europe, South America,...

    They are different from Americans, different values, priorities, etc. Explains why they don't get republicans at all.

  • rate this

    Comment number 9.

    Good night for Romney if and only if he can sell it to the voters in the "toss-up states". The question is, does aggressiveness justify a vision?


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