Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney was the target of most attacks in the fifth and most heated presidential debate so far this season. Businessman Herman Cain, who is tied with Romney in most polls, was criticized for his “9-9-9” tax plan.
“Mitt, you lose all of your standing, from my perspective, because you hired illegals in your home and you knew about it for a year, and the idea that you stand here before us and you talk about that you're strong on immigration is, on its face the height of hypocrisy,” Texas Governor Rick Perry told Romney.
Romney threw his head back with a laugh as some in the crowd clapped while others booed. “Rick, I don't think I've ever hired an illegal in my life, so I'm looking forward to finding your facts on that ...”
“I'll tell you what the facts are …,” Perry interrupted. At that point, both candidates kept talking, making it difficult to hear what either candidate was saying.
“Are you just going to keep talking, or are you going to let me finish what I'm saying?” Romney said in frustration.
“This has been a tough couple of debates for Rick, and I understand that. So, you're going to get testy,” Romney said to laughter from the audience.
Romney was referring to the fact that in the previous three debates Perry seemed to lack energy, fumbled his words often and seemed tired toward the end of the debates. On Tuesday night, Perry was more energetic than in previous debates. His speech seemed to slow toward the end, but it was less noticeable than in previous debates.
Romney answered Perry's charge about hiring undocumented workers by saying that it was a contractor who worked on his lawn that had hired the workers, not him. In the middle of the explanation, Perry again interrupted Romney.
“You have a problem with allowing someone to finish speaking, and I suggest that if you want to become president of the United States you got to let both people speak, so let me speak,” Romney said to cheers from the crowd.
Romney was also attacked for the health care plan he helped implement in Massachusetts, which has similarities to the national Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” such as an individual mandate to purchase health insurance.
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said it is “not a fair charge” to say that Romney's health care plan for Massachusetts is the same as “Obamacare,” but, his “plan essentially is one more big government bureaucratic, high cost system.”
“We got the idea of an individual mandate from you,” Romney shot back at Gingrich. Gingrich answered that was not true.
“Have you supported in the past an individual mandate?” Romney asked.
“I did, with the Heritage Foundation, against Hillarycare,” Gingrich answered, referring to the health care reform ideas of the task force led by Hillary Clinton when she was First Lady.
“That's what I'm saying, we got the idea from you and the Heritage Foundation,” Romney clarified.
“OK, a little broader,” Gingrich said as the audience laughed.
Cain was again attacked on his 9-9-9 tax plan, which would eliminate the current tax code and replace it with a nine percent income tax, nine percent corporate tax and nine percent sales tax. Some argued that it would increase taxes on the lower and middle classes. Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann was concerned that adding a new sales tax would give the government a new revenue stream.
“The reason that our plan is being attacked so much,” Cain answered, “is because lobbyists, accountants, politicians, they don't want to throw out the current tax code and put in something that is simple and fair. They want to continue to be able to manipulate the American people with a 10 million word mess. Let's throw out the 10 million word mess and put in our plan, which will liberate American workers and liberate American businesses.”
In a new attack on the plan, Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum said he was concerned that there was nothing in the plan that would help families.
“Under Herman's plan a single person pays the same in taxes as a man and woman raising three children. We want to encourage people to raise children without having to pay more. We've seen that happen in Europe and what happened? Boom!” Santorum said as he pointed down. “Birth rates went in the basement.”
Santorum mention the importance of family again later in the debate and argued that he is the only candidate “who consistently sounds that theme.”
“I disagree in some respects with [Texas] Congressman [Ron] Paul who says the country is founded on the individual. The basic building block of a society is not the individual, it's the family. That's the basic human society,” Santorum said.
“Rights don't come in bunches,” Paul countered. “Rights come as individuals. They come from God. Each individual has a right to life and liberty.”
The debate was held in Las Vegas and hosted by CNN. The next debate will be on Nov. 9 in Michigan and hosted by CNBC.