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 48.

    @ Florida USA (43). The major difference between Obama's presidency & Mitt's governorship is- Mitt's opposition has many sensible Dems while Obama never got many GOP (not many black either) who either has the guts to stand up against party whip or talk straight. It's the GOP who ruined the professional bipartisan relationship.
    Do U know there is only 6 black GOP congressmen so far in history?

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    @Jay, the difference between ObamaCare and the Mass State plan is a blanket plan at the National level disallows each state to curtail their heath care planning to the specific population. For example, in Florida we have a large number of retirees and another state may have younger population.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Thirty plus percent of Americans are under-educated, under-evolved and underexposed (to otherness). They are fickle and gullible, they love a seductive veneer. The truth (and reality) is malleable if not altogether lost in a soft-focus romantic-comedy. Romney told a good yarn tonight, and that is all that will matter. Romney will unfortunately be two/three points clear come the weekend.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    I'm disappointed by Obama's performance tonight. He was far too polite, deferring to the moderator, who clearly was unable to moderate a high school, let alone a presidential, debate while Romney talked all over him. In terms of air time I'd score the debate 2 to 1 in favor of Romney; however I'm not convinced Romney actually said anything substantial during the debate tonight.

  • rate this

    Comment number 44.

    Was Obama trying to avoid generating sympathy for the underdog or hoping Mitt would get carried away and run himself off the rails? Is Obama channeling Sun Tzu, tempting all Republicans to hitch their wagons to Mitt's and focusing all the third party money on the top of the ticket, only to find themselves over-extended and then defeated in detail, Kursk style. If not, the world is toast.

  • rate this

    Comment number 43.

    I think what you are missing is that Romney is going to work out the details with Congress like he did in Massachusetts as there are many ways to accomplish goals. Obama rams his plans through with Executive orders and with votes from Dems like Pelosi who admit they never read the Obamacare before they voted. This is a State issue not a Federal one. If you want this move to Romney's old state.

  • rate this

    Comment number 42.

    @ Florida USA (33). You have absolutely no idea what u r talking about; making u the most suitable GOP supporter for whom GW Bush was a perfect president & by whom people like Bush-Mitt get elected.
    Check this NYT report on GE CEO whom many equally 'talented' GOP supporters portray as "Obama fan":

  • rate this

    Comment number 41.

    22. Jay

    They also said that often the first debate of an incumbent is rough. They're simply not used to be challenged. They're surrounded by sycophants in the White House, and Obama simply hasn't had a lot of contact with republicans who challenge him.

    He'll probably do much better on foreign policy where he won't be challenged as much on details and can stay conceptual. And lecture. ;-)

  • rate this

    Comment number 40.

    It was all fluff from Romney, but he looked poised while doing the fluffing. I think the President should have been more aggressive during the debate. At the very least - he should have called Romney out and forced him to give details on his supposed plans.

  • rate this

    Comment number 39.

    Obama, Is the only real choice for America!

    Tea anyone....

  • rate this

    Comment number 38.

    Pres. Obama did better today. This article, though, seems very biased in Obama's favor, which is getting too common on BBC.

    "Clashing repeatedly with moderator...over the time clock, Mr Romney..." (BOTH did repeatedly)

    "Mr Romney praised...a plan he himself had previously signed..."

    "Mr Romney assailed Mr Obama over his plans..."

    No mention that the "polls" are 47 vs 49%.

    Curious omissions.

  • rate this

    Comment number 37.

    Axiomatic: no liberal/progressive/socialist/Marxist/leftist can win a debate based on facts and numbers. Once emotions, "caring", "fairness", "social justice", etc unquontified leftist abracadabra is purged, the result is never in doubt.

    Early days still, but a Romney landslide looks more and more possible.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    @31. Totally agreed. Still no specifics from Romney on how he's going to solve the problems. All he did was hit Obama on problems that were caused by Bush and exacerbated by an uncompromising GOP controlled congress. Obama did as well as he could in his first term given the anchor the Republicans shackled him with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    Obama played into the Romney theme that he is a failed President who is in over his head. Obama let Mitt make things up and didn't seem concerned that even lies can change voters' minds. Romney did his best CEO and ran down both Obama and Jim Lehrer, who was little more than a bystander. I wonder how many Americans want to have President who governs just like their boss at work.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    Can anyone post me any news clipping or link where GOP leaders, including Mitt, admitted even a single positive aspect of Obamacare as done by Mitt today? Probably that' the new strategy of Mitt in last few days. Obama consistently gave due credit to Mitt & his advisers for his healthcare plan outline.
    I'm also not sure why Mitt thinks his health plan is great for Mass but not for other states!

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    Romney held back - wait for the next one. Obama's inexperience in every aspect of business, healthcare, government and economics showed up big time. It is time for Obama to resign and get someone who can run the business that is the USA. BTW - CEO of General Electric exported more jobs during his job as Obama's "Jobs CZAR" than Romney ever did at Bain Capital - years ago.

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    19. AndreaNY , Noted, but…
    Can’t figure this out: my sentiments in #11 are echoed by the major networks ABC, CNN etc
    Yet I, a small-time pundit, who had the guts to explain Obama’s poor performance always gets negative votes here despite my clarity.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I'm not sure why some are saying Romney won the debate. He evaded giving clear answers, often wouldn't give specifics about what he plans to do, and went off topic to other subjects in evading direct and clear answers. I thought President Obama said more things that made sense and had facts behind them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 30.

    @ AndreaNY(19). I would have been glad if Mitt or any other GOP told the same thing that Mitt admitted today abt the positive aspects of Obamacare, even though he again assured that he'll revoke Obamacare without giving alternative & specific plan.
    Mitt seem to believe different values, facts depending on his audience & interest- GOP forum or private fund raiser or live TV debate open to public!

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    Going by the individual track records of these two political gladiators, Obama has the edge. By this debate alone, Obama was not aggressive enough and handed Romney too many opportunities on a platter. Obama strategists should sharpen Obama's rebuttal skills as they have a brilliant candidate who stands head and shoulders above his Republican challenger in practically all important respects!


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