Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney is the front-runner in the Republican presidential contest, but former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain was the target of most of the attacks at Tuesday night's debate in New Hampshire.
Cain's “9-9-9” economic plan would scrap the current tax code and replace it with a nine percent corporate tax, nine percent income tax and nine percent sales tax. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann said her main concern with the plan was that it opens a new revenue stream, a national sales tax, and those taxes could be raised over time.
Bachmann also got the audience laughing when she joked about turning 9-9-9 upside down to form “666.” “When you take the 9-9-9 plan and you turn it upside down, I think the devil's in the details.”
Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said the main problem with Cain's plan is it cannot pass Congress.
“How many people here are for a sales tax in New Hampshire? Raise your hand,” Santorum asked the audience. No audience members within view of the television cameras appeared to raise their hand. “There you go, Herman,” Santorum said to Cain. “That's how many votes you'll get in New Hampshire.”
Cain responded, “Therein lies the difference between me, the nonpolitician, and all of the politicians. They want to pass what they think they can get passed, rather than what we need, which is a bold solution.”
Texas Governor Rick Perry, who performed poorly in the previous two debates, seemed tired and fumbled his words on some of his answers. His campaign team assured the press that he would be better prepared and more rested for this debate. Perry's energy level, however, still seemed low.
“What we need to be focused on today is not whether we're going to have this policy or that policy. What we need to be focused on is how we get America working again,” Perry said before explaining his energy policy.
Perry had been criticized in previous debates for not having an economic plan. Tuesday's debate was focused solely on economics. Yet, Perry still had few details on his economic agenda, except to say a plan would be forthcoming and he wanted to develop America's energy resources.
“We are sitting on this absolute treasure trove of energy in this country,” Perry said, “and I don't need '9-9-9,' we don't need any plan to pass Congress, we need to get a president of the United States that is committed to passing the types of regulations, pulling the regulations back, freeing this country to go develop the energy industry that we have in this country.”
Throughout the debate, the questions remained strictly focused on the economy even though there had been much discussion of Romney and former Utah Governor Jon Hunstman's Mormon faith over the past few days. There was also an assassination attempt on a Saudi Arabian diplomat earlier Tuesday.
The debate format was also unique in that all the candidates were seated together at a large table rather than standing behind a podium.
For part of the debate, candidates were able to ask another candidate a question. The two front-runners, Romney and Cain, received the most questions.
Perry used the opportunity to again point out the similarities between Romney's health care reforms in Massachusetts and the Affordable Care Act, passed under Obama. One of Romney's economic advisers had claimed that the two laws were the same, according to Perry.
Romney defended himself, in part, by attacking Perry's record as governor of Texas.
“We have less than 1 percent of our kids that are uninsured. You have a million kids uninsured in Texas – a million kids. Under President Bush, the percent uninsured went down. Under your leadership, it's gone up,” Romney said.
Santorum spoke about poverty and how it relates to two-parent households.
“You want to look at the poverty rate among families that have two, a husband and wife, working in them? It's 5 percent today. A family that's headed by one person? It's 30 percent today. We need to do something. We need to talk about economics, the home – the word 'home' in Greek is the basis of the word 'economy.'”
Calling the home “the foundation of our country,” Santorum went on to say, “We need to have a policy that supports families, that encourages marriage, that has fathers take responsibility for their children. You can't have limited government, you can't have a wealthy society, if the family breaks down that basic unit of society. And that needs to be included in this economic discussion.”
The debate was co-sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, an organization devoted to reducing the nation's debt burden. Commercials from the foundation were run during the breaks showing schoolchildren in a classroom “teaching” about the dangers of too much debt.
“If you just used spending cuts, the entire budget would have to be cut by 31 percent – draconian cuts that would threaten defense and the social safety net. … The only solution is a bipartisan, long-term plan that kicks in when our economy is stronger,” one commercial said.
All of the Republican presidential candidates have said that the budget should be balanced through spending cuts only.