Weather Updates

Obama on defensive in first debate with Romney


Updated: January 10, 2013 6:04PM

GOP nominee Mitt Romney put President Barack Obama on the defensive on the economy and on jobs Wednesday night as both candidates worked to woo the middle class in the long-awaited first televised debate of the presidential contest.

In America’s first chance to watch the two presidential candidates side by side before the Nov. 6 election, Romney hammered away at Obama, citing a surge in unemployment and food-stamp recipients over the last four years and an increase in the deficit.

“Middle-income families are getting crushed,” Romney said.

He later declared:

“I will not under any circumstances raise taxes on middle-income families.”

Throughout the 90-minute bout in Denver, Romney tried to make “Obamacare” a dirty word, vowing to repeal it. Obama held his head up, saying he embraced not only the term, but considered his overhaul to the health-care system a top accomplishment.

“It’s expensive — expensive things hurt families,” Romney said, painting the president as hungry to advance his own personal goals in a partisan way instead of tackling the economy when he took office. “I just don’t know how the president could have faced [an economic crisis] . . . and spend his energy and passion for Obamacare instead of fighting for jobs for the American people.”

“I have become fond of this term, Obamacare,” Obama said.

Repealing it, he said would force seniors to pay $600 more in prescription care.

“Insurance companies are estimated to gain billions of dollars back when they aren’t making seniors any healthier,” Obama said.

Obama initially trumpeted the turnaround in the auto industry, which happened under his administration’s direction. However, as the war of words wore on, the president seemed to lose traction, finding himself defending his policies of the last four years more than he was able to set out his future agenda.

He tried to set the tone early by declaring “the question is not where we’ve been, but where we’re going.”

Obama said when he stepped into the Oval Office in 2009 he inherited more than a trillion-dollar deficit due to: “Two wars that were paid for on a credit card, two tax cuts that were not paid for . . . and a massive economic crisis.”

The president said he has cut 77 government programs and succeeded at slowing what could have been a full-on depression.

Obama tried to put Romney on the defense, hitting the former Massachusetts governor for supporting corporate tax breaks benefitting the wealthy and calling billions of dollars to the oil industry “corporate welfare.”

Obama twice said that the tax code needs an overhaul when it gives companies a tax break for shutting down and taking jobs overseas.

“You say you get a break for taking jobs overseas. I’ve been in business for 25 years. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Romney said. “I may have to get a new accountant.”

Obama criticized Romney’s plan to drive down the deficit, saying the plan was impossible as a matter of arithmetic without hurting the middle class.

“My No. 1 principle is to have no tax cut that adds to the deficit,” Romney said.

Romney took a lot of grief on social media after he said he would stop giving government money to PBS. He said this as he talked about an out-of-control deficit, saying it was a moral question — not to saddle future generations with debt. Romney referenced the debate’s moderator, Jim Lehrer, who hosts PBS’ “News Hour.”

“I’m sorry Jim, I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS . . . I like PBS, I like Big Bird, I actually like you, too,” Romney said. “I’m not going to keep spending money on things that I got to borrow money from China to pay for.”

Big Bird began trending on Twitter, with one tweeter joking: “OCCUPY SESAME STREET. We gotta’ do it for Big Bird.”

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.