Candidates go head-to-head in debate on domestic policies

President Barack Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney went head-to-head on domestic policy last night, clashing on topics like taxes, jobs, the role of the federal government and health care.

Jim Lehrer, host of PBS’s “NewsHour,” moderated the election season’s first presidential debate and asked the candidates to draw a stark distinction between one another’s economic policy.

Obama defended his administration by saying they have created five million jobs over 30 months in the private sector by investing in the auto industry, education and new energy.

Obama said Romney’s vision was a top-down approach that cut taxes for the most wealthy and disregarded the needs of the middle class.

“America does best when the middle class does best,” Obama said. “And I’m looking forward to having that debate.”

Romney said he does not plan to cut taxes for the rich, but is attempting to foster a stronger environment for small businesses.

The GOP nominee said he would enact a five-point plan, which includes energy independence, open trade, rebuking China when the country does not “play by the rules,” investing in education and bolstering small businesses.

“I know what it takes to get small business going again, to hire people,” he said. “I’m concerned that the path that we’re on has just been unsuccessful.”

The president said Romney plans to overfund the U.S. military.

“Now, Gov. Romney’s proposal which he has been promoting for 18 months, calls for a $5 trillion tax cut on top of $2 trillion of additional spending for our military,” Obama said. “And he is saying that he is going to pay for it by closing loopholes and deductions.”

Medicare and the Affordable Care Act were also central points of discussion last night, featuring the candidates’ vastly different ideas on the two fronts.

Romney said Obama is cutting $716 billion in Medicare funding, which would cripple the program, while he will propose no changes for current beneficiaries.

Under his program, Romney said, there would be no change to current beneficiaries plans and that changes would only take effect for people not yet on Medicare.

Obama said he does not support Romney’s plan because it will subject Medicare beneficiaries to the whims of insurance companies rather than having concrete support with the federal government programs.

The Affordable Care Act, perhaps Obama’s landmark achievement as president, was hotly debated.

Romney said he would repeal and replace the act, while Obama lauded its effects, even pointing to Romney’s legislation in Massachusetts that closely resembles his own law.

Obama said the act protects consumers from insurance company abuse by not allowing for limits in insurance payments, being denied coverage for pre-existing conditions and allowing children to remain on their parents insurance until age 26.

“Let me tell you exactly what Obamacare did: No. 1, if you’ve got health insurance, it doesn’t mean a government takeover,” he said. “You keep your own insurance, you keep your own doctor, but it says insurance companies can’t jerk you around.”

David Greenberg, an associate professor in the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said he expected the debate to have a small impact because many people have already made up their minds.

“There’s always going to be a small portion of people who don’t decide who they’re going to vote for until the debates,” said Greenberg, who is also a professor in the Department of History.

In a close election, Greenberg said these kinds of holdout voters can be important for the candidates.

The elaborate preparation that goes into debates includes a colleague playing one’s opponent, the most difficult questions and charges being posed in rehearsal and scripted one-liners for insertion at appropriate times in the debate.

Carl Van Horn, director of the John J. Heldrich Center for Workforce Development, said the debate serves as a forum for candidates to rearticulate the standpoints they have hashed out for the length of the campaign.

Van Horn, a public policy professor, said the debates have a minimal impact barring any huge mistakes, which are unlikely.

“Most people have already made up their minds,” he said, “and people who haven’t made up their minds may be influenced by the debate but most likely will be influenced by other factors.”

He said the debate is especially important for Romney, who is currently trailing in the polls.

“I think the big question really is more what will Gov. Romney do to change the current dynamic of the election,” he said. “Even though most people have already made up their mind, the people who haven’t made up their mind will determine the outcome in a close election.”

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