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 68.

    What I got out of the debate is that Romney is fighting for the American people

    He has been so demonized by Obama's ads people thought he was someone he was not

    Now during the debate we all got to see the real Romney-
    a man who defines himself+who is no longer defined by those ads

    Romney was just the right amount of aggressive,
    he was constantly engaged, he did a very very good job

  • rate this

    Comment number 67.

    It is apparent that this administration doesn't understand how jobs and money are generated. All you have to do is look at government run institutions. Public schools-fail, Post Office-fail, Amtrack- fail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 66.

    'A snap poll of registered voters by CNN found that 67 per cent thought Mr Romney had won, compared to 25 per cent for Mr Obama. A CBS survey found 46 per cent of viewers thought Mr Romney had bettered the President, while only 22 per cent believed Mr Obama had won.'

  • rate this

    Comment number 65.

    @ Florida USA (58). Your sense of logic & fact is really suitable for current generation of Bush-Palin's (and now Mitt's) GOP.
    I always said and saying it again that- it is just pathetic to see a party like GOP that gave us so many great leaders & presidents (including the one U mentioned) to nominate morons like Bush, McCain-Palin & Mitt in last few decades. It's dangerous for US democracy too.

  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    I regret to inform those of you who feel that Obama's command of facts both was evident and will matter to voters that you have overestimates us Americans. America's views on global warming, evolution, religion, and politics are based on faith, not facts. The scientific method and deductive reasoning are considered mental disorders, just like homosexuality. This election may well prove it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    51. Jay

    Come on. Romney had to work with the most liberal senator in the US, Ted Kennedy.

    It's not that democrats were somehow more amenable to Romney, it's that he was interested in making a deal and getting it done. Obama, OTH, could ignore repubs and push it thru without them. Bad move.

    (Rahm Emanuel's slur about repubs caused my last comment to be removed.)

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    @Jay 38 Czars unconfirmed by Congress to teach Obama how to do his job - that is also a new record that demonstrates that he is admits he does not know what he is doing. Most are unqualified friends or campaign supporters. I guess he should fire them but the causation of increased unemployment statics may skew his dismal record. Chicago Politics at its best. Good night & God Bless America

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    @ M Holderbach (52). Ur statement starts with a big "IF", which is clearly not feasible in current economic situation, and also in near future to bridge the budget gap we currently have.
    2ndly, no GOP ever allow to link job creation (specific number of jobs created) with amount of tax cut, mainly to rich whom the GOP naively call "job creator" while not a credible economist agree with.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    This is probably the most important vote for a generation.

    The world's in an economic mess, which the USA is part of, & which has its roots in the Bush years. No small part of that spending was on war's in the Middle East which also cost many men.

    Romney wants a new war with Iran, Romney's plans are uncosted, & Romney thinks half of Americans dont matter!

    Isnt Obama the only serious choice?

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    Obama lost this debate and badly. I had the impression his debate prep totally underestimated Romney and it showed.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    @ Jay The Republicans (Abraham Lincoln at the time) ended slavery and originated every major affirmative action program except one. Democrats high jacked the voters with class warfare. Now they are using the old techniques that bankrupted the Roman Empire of giving people what they want to buy phones. Did you get your Obama Phone yet? It is a fact - check your history. Teach a man to fish...

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    @ Florida USA (53). The link U posted asked for subscription so I could not read.
    I don't disagree with that, even though I am yet to confirm it. Probably that's exactly the reason (to continue to do business usual of shifting profit & job abroad) why Mr Immelt (GE CEO) accepted to become Obama's economic adviser. Obama opposed Immelt's plan & that's why he started singing GOP song again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    For presentation, full marks to Mr. Governor but Mr.President steal the show with his concrete statements with facts & figures which provides clear roadmap for American dream to entire world.

  • Comment number 55.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    Everybody doesnt get to vote. we are not South America or Europe, and no offense, nor do we want to be. I am facinated in the differences of perception between us all.. and love self governance and detest the disrespect and dishonor that Obama has imposed on the Constitution and we Americans. Romney is our besty hope to resolve our bipartisan issues,

  • rate this

    Comment number 53.

    @Jay, During the Obama reign GE has shifted to more employees outside the USA than in the USA and is sharing detailed sensitive information and technology with the Chinese in the process including advanced avionics. Examples:

    This is other old news:

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    Obama's "math" says Romney's tax plan won't work. If you put more people to work, paying $20,000 less each in unemployment benefits, and they start paying does work. More tax payers not more taxes. It worked for Kennedy, it worked for Reagan, it worked for Clinton. How can Obama say history proves it doesn't work?

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    @ Tezzee (47). Then, it is not state per se, but number of specific category or specific need (of a population). Right? I'm not sure that Obamacare disallows states to curtail healthcare for ANY specific population.
    Will GOP agree on Obamacare If federal mandated plan has (or incorporates) provision to take care that variable?
    Obamacare is by far the best and most all-inclusive plan US ever had.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    Dear Father Christmas,

    Please may we keep Mr Obama as President.

    Mr Romney scares me, and I dont want want an unnecessary war in the Middle East, because it could spoil lots and lots of Christmas's for lots of people forever and ever.

    Thank you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.

    32. saya

    They are primarily Obama supporters because they think exactly as he does. They are simply not used to this. O's not been challenged this directly.

    43. Florida USA

    Romney might as well have said to Obama, "This is how an executive does it..." Management 101. Unlike Romney, O had no regular working meetings with both parties to ensure a bipartisan solution was reached.


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