Tags: Editor's Pick | debate | santorum | romney | gingrich | taxes

Forceful Santorum Fends Off Romney Attacks

By    |   Wednesday, 22 February 2012 09:59 PM

The final four GOP presidential candidates came out swinging Wednesday night on earmarks, the economy, healthcare and the automotive bailout in the 20th and final debate before the decisive Super Tuesday contests.

Much of the jabs were directed at the unlikely new front-runner — former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who is fresh off a triple-play of victories in Minnesota, Colorado and Missouri.

Asked by CNN moderator John King why he ran an ad accusing Santorum of being a “fake,” feisty Texas Rep. Ron Paul retorted, “Because he’s a fake.”

Paul went on to attack Santorum’s support for the No Child Left Behind legislation, which he now plans to repeal if elected president.

“I find it really fascinating that when people are running for office they’re really fiscally conservative,” charged Paul. “When they’re in office they do something different. Then, when they explain themselves, they say ‘oh I want to repeal that.’ ”

"Look, politics is a team sport, folks," Santorum said of the measure backed by Republican President George W. Bush and other GOP lawmakers. "I voted for that; it was against the principles I believe in, but I did that to help the team. Sometimes you have to take one for the team."

Santorum has surged ahead of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney heading into two key primaries Tuesday — one in Arizona, where the debate was held, and the other in Michigan, where Romney was born and his father served as governor.

With so much at stake, the candidates began the debate with their views on how they would bring down the nation’s national debt, which is now more than $15.3 trillion.

Santorum pledged to trim $5 trillion from the deficit over five years, but leave defense spending intact.

“Obviously the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That’s the one entitlement that we can get rid of,” he said to applause. “And that’s a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years.”

He said defense spending represented some 60 percent of the budget when he was born — the same level that entitlements now represent in present spending.

“Unlike the Paul Ryan plan we will also deal with Medicare and Social Security — not 10 years from now — but we have to start dealing with it now because our country is facing fiscal bankruptcy,” insisted Santorum.

Romney said he would tackle the national debt by examining “every single” federal program to determine if we can afford them.

“If not, I’m going to say, ‘Is this program so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it?’ And if not, I’m going to get rid of it,” said Romney, who added that he wants to turn over greater responsibility for Medicaid, housing assistance, and food stamps to states in the form of block grants.

“These programs for the poor can be run more efficiently and can be run with less fraud and abuse at the state level,” added Romney, who also promised to reduce government employment by 10 percent and link the pay of government workers to the private sector.

Santorum charged that Romney raised taxes and fees by $700 million during his tenure as governor. “You look at my record of never having raised taxes. Governor Romney raised $700 million in taxes and fees in Massachusetts. I never voted to raise taxes,” declared Santorum. “We’re not raising taxes on anybody.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is hoping that a much-needed $10 million infusion of cash will help him regain his political footing in  upcoming contests, stressed his own experience balancing the national budget over four consecutive years.

“I would be committed, first of all, to a program of jobs and economic growth,” Gingrich pledged, adding that America could once again return to $2.50 per gallon gas prices if more federal lands were opened to energy exploration.

“You would have $16 to $18 trillion — not billion — trillion dollars in royalties to the federal government in the next generation, an enormous flow that would drive down prices to $2.50 a gallon, would help us balance the budget, and we’d create millions of jobs,” he said.

Santorum insisted that Romney had a double standard for spending earmarks — attacking Santorum’s record on earmarks, while at the same time pursuing them in his roles of heading up the Winter Olympics in Utah, and as governor.

“While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere,” snapped Romney, pulling Gingrich into the discussion with a reference to some 6,000 earmarks put into place under Gingrich’s tenure as House speaker.

“You’re entitled to your opinions but you’re not entitled to misrepresent the facts,” charged Santorum, in one of the more heated exchanges of the night.

Gingrich then joined Santorum in poking fun at Romney’s perceived hypocrisy on the earmarks issue.

“I think it was totally appropriate for you to ask for what you got,” he told Romney. “I just think it’s kind of silly for you to then turn around and run an ad attacking somebody else for getting what you got. And then claiming what you got wasn’t what they got —because what you got was right — and what they got was wrong.”

Gingrich also drew applause at the debate, hosted by CNN and the Republican Party of Arizona at the Mesa Arts Center, when he asked the audience to imagine how different their financial situation would be if they had a president who wanted to work with their state rather than suing Arizona over its attempts to regulate illegal immigration.

“What’s the fiscal reality three years from now in your emergency rooms, in your schools, in your prisons, of controlling the border?” Gingrich asked. “It’s a lot less expensive. You just took a major step toward a less expensive future.”

The candidates also clashed over the automotive industry bailouts, an  important issue for Michigan voters.

Santorum said he opposes government bailouts in principle except in cases like the airline bailout that followed the 9/11 attacks. Santorum pointed to the government’s role in grounding aircraft to protect against further attacks.

“I held the same consistent position when it came to the auto bailouts,” said Santorum. “I can say with respect to Governor Romney that was not the case. He supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street — was all for it — and then when it came to the auto workers and the folks in Detroit he said ‘no.’ That to me was not a consistent principled position. I had one. I believe in markets — not just when they are convenient for me.”

Romney defended his stand against the automotive bailout. “My view is this: We have to have industries that get in trouble go through bankruptcy,” he said, adding that he feared a widespread collapse of the banking system would have occurred had government not stepped in to rescue Wall Street.

On foreign affairs, all four Republicans attacked President Barack Obama for his handling of Iran and its attempt to develop a nuclear program, but none of the contenders advocated providing arms to the rebels trying to topple the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

The most animated clash of the evening focused on healthcare.

Santorum said that Romney had used government money to "fund a federal takeover of healthcare in Massachusetts," a reference to the state law that was enacted during Romney's term as governor. The law includes a requirement for individuals to purchase coverage that is similar to the one in Obama's landmark federal law that Romney and other Republicans have vowed to repeal.

In rebuttal, Romney said Santorum, a former Pennsylvania senator, actually bore responsibility for passage of the healthcare law that Obama won from a Democratic-controlled Congress in 2010, even though he wasn't in office at the time. Romney said that in a primary battle in 2004, Santorum had supported then-Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, who later switched parties and voted for the law Obama wanted.

"He voted for Obamacare. If you had not supported him, if we had said no to Arlen Specter, we would not have Obamacare," Romney contended.

Santorum was the aggressor on bailouts.

While all four of the Republicans on the debate stage opposed the federal bailout of the auto industry in 2008 and 2009, Santorum said he had voted against other government-funded rescue efforts.

"With respect to Governor Romney that was not the case, he supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street — was all for it — and when it came to the auto workers and the folks in Detroit, he said no. That to me is not a principled consistent position," he said.


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Wednesday, 22 February 2012 09:59 PM
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