DENVER – The general election’s first presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney was heavy on economic discussions and virtually void on talk about social issues, with Romney seen as the debate winner by both pundits and instant polls.
Moderator Jim Lehrer of PBS did not ask any questions about gay marriage or abortion, and struggled at times simply to get in a question at all. The debate spotlighted domestic policy.
Romney, the Republican nominee, may have made the only passing reference to social issues when he said “I believe we must maintain our commitment to religious tolerance and freedom in this country.” In commercials and on the campaign trail, he and his campaign have used the discussion about religious freedom as a way to criticize the Obama administration’s abortion/contraceptive mandate, which requires employers – including many religious organizations – to pay for employee insurance plans covering contraceptives and “morning-after pills” that can cause chemical abortions.
But the debate was dominated by discussion about the economy. One of the debate’s top moments of contrast took place when Romney and Obama discussed the nation’s $16 trillion debt.
“I think it’s not just an economic issue. I think it’s a moral issue,” Romney said of the debt. “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 be 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.”
Obama said he inherited a bad economy.
“When I walked into the Oval Office, I had more than a trillion-dollar deficit greeting me,” he said. “And we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card … 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 is, let’s make sure that we are cutting out those things that are not helping us grow.”
Obama said he worked with “Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of our discretionary domestic budget.”
The two men disagreed strongly on whether taxes should be raised on higher income Americans. At issue were the Bush tax cuts that are set to expire at the end of this year.
“Under my plan, 97 percent of small businesses would not see their income taxes go up,” Obama said. “Gov. Romney says, well, those top 3 percent, they’re the job creators, they’d be burdened. But under Gov. Romney’s definition, there are a whole bunch of millionaires and billionaires who are small businesses.”
Romney said allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire will cost jobs.
“Those businesses that are in the last 3 percent of businesses happen to employ half of all the people who work in small business,” he said, addressing Obama. “Those are the businesses that employ one-quarter of all the workers in America. And the [Obama] plan is to take their tax rate from 35 percent to 40 percent.
Romney added, “I’ve 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.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.)