Debate Recap: Economy Can Thrive With Less Government
Big Choice for Voters
Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman was perhaps the most populist in the crowd, saying he understands protests such as Occupy Wall Street, which have organized across the country to deplore corporate greed and bailouts.
"I don't like the anti-capitalism message but I do agree that this country is never again going to bail out corporations," he said. "So long as we have banks too big to fail we are setting ourselves up for long-term disaster and failure."
Oakland University is nestled in a tony suburb that both supported President Obama in 2008 and, two years later, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, who has waged war with the state's labor unions.
The GOP race thus far has amounted to a carousel of flavors-of-the-week, with voters unsure whether to pick quick-witted businessmen, dapper ex-governors or darlings of the Tea Party right.
Romney said picking the right candidate is important to defeat a president who cares more about his political aspirations than getting the country on the right track.
"What we have now is a president who unfortunately is driven by one thing — his re-election," Romney said. "It's unbelievable that we have a crisis going on in America like we have and we have a president who is only focused on getting re-elected."
Each candidate has asserted superiority on how to solve the debt and deficit problems in the U.S., but their plans have several common denominators.
Simplifying the tax code and broadening the tax base — getting more people to pay — has been the cornerstone, with many advocating a flat tax that eliminates the legion of loopholes that has made generating revenue an increasingly difficult proposition for the debt-laden federal government.
Cain, who joins Romney atop the field in most polls, has managed to capture the attention of many Republican voters in this regard.
His 9-9-9 tax plan — which opponents deride as sounding like a special on the pizzas Cain's former company, Godfather's Pizza, makes — would implement an across-the-board levy on sales, income and business revenues.
He pledged that the numbers in his plan would not escalate should politicians decide they need more money to run government.
"Tax codes do not raise taxes, politicians do. The people will hold the politicians' feet to the fire," Cain said to applause. "Because the approach 9-9-9 will be very visible, the American people are going to hold the rates at 9."
One of the other main topics is how to cope with the nation's $15 trillion debt and $1.3 trillion budget deficit while trying to help an economy that grew at just 2 percent in the last quarter.
Raising taxes is anathema, though, to the Republican base, so the candidates have tried to sell their tax plans as both growth-friendly and less burdensome on those suffering most during the downturn.
The candidates also teed off on China, with Romney blasting "cheaters like China" and both he and Gingrich saying the U.S. needs to impose penalties even if it risks a trade way.
Huntsman — the former ambassador to China under Obama — said that would be a mistake.
"We've had a 40-year relationship with China. It is a troublesome and problematic relationship, very complicated," he said. "You can throw out applause lines and say that you're going to slap on tariffs. That doesn't work."