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Tea Party Debate: Republican Presidential Candidates Face Off In Florida (LIVE UPDATES)

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Eight Republican presidential candidates are facing off in the Sunshine State on Monday night.

CNN and the Tea Party Express are sponsoring the two-hour forum. The Following GOP contenders are taking part in the event: U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Utah governor Jon Huntsman, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), Texas Governor Rick Perry, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.

A new CNN/ORC poll shows Perry running ahead of rival Republican candidates vying for the White House in 2012. The Texas governor made his debut on the presidential debate stage in California's first GOP primary debate of the election season last week.

Below, a live blog of the latest developments to unfold in Monday night's debate in Florida.

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Seminole Heights Patch's Mike Wells reports on local reaction in Florida to the Republican presidential debate:

Florida Rep. James Grant, who represents the state’s 47th district, attended the debate and live tweeted his take on the candidates.

“I thought it was an enlightening night,” Grant said afterward. “It had its diplomatic moments, and it had its good humor moments. Huntsman was throwing grenade after grenade.”

Grant said Gingrich and Santorum offered the most substantive and on point answers.

“Newt did a masterful job. … And I didn’t see Newt or Santorum being told by other candidates that they were wrong about anything or being asked to clarify anything they had said.”

While frontrunners Romney and Perry seemed to be the focus at the start, each of the candidates gave strong answers and spoke out on issues they were passionate about, Grant said.

“We’re starting to see [the candidates] be more comfortable with what they’re doing,” Grant said.

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HuffPost asked former Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) what he thought of the crowd cheering for the death of the uninsured man. He writes:

My speech was about the fact I had been listening to the Republicans for months, and they literally had no plan to help all those millions of people who can’t see a doctor when they’re sick. So I said, in sort of a wry manner, that their plan was "don’t get sick." All I really wanted to do was just call attention to the stark absence of a Republican plan. But Fox, trying to take the heat off Joe Wilson and Sarah Palin I guess, transmogrified that into a charge that Republicans want to kill people.

What you saw tonight is something much more sinister than not having a healthcare plan. It's sadism, pure and simple. It's the same impulse that led people in the Coliseum to cheer when the lions ate the Christians. And that seems to be where we are heading – bread and circuses, without the bread. The world that Hobbes wrote about – "the war of all against all."

-- Ryan Grim

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CNN's Wolf Blitzer says that the debate that was just hosted by CNN's Wolf Blitzer was totally awesome.

ANDERSON COOPER: Wolf Blitzer in your opinion, was there a clear winner tonight?

WOLF BLITZER: Yeah, Anderson, Hi, I'm over here, I don't know if you can see me. It's a little exciting on the stage right now. We're going to let the folks out there think -- decide if there were winners or losers. I was pleased because I thought we got to some substantive issues, we got to some real disagreements by these candidates. And I think folks emerged from this debate a little more knowledgeable about these eight candidates than they did going in. I was pleased with what we heard and I was pleased with the opportunity we gave these candidates and through CNN, the American public to have a better appreciation of these eight Republican candidates. One of whom is going to be the Republican nominee and one of them may be the President of the United States.

It's because CNN is so willing to go out on a limb and tell the American people that one of the people vying for the GOP nomination will win that nomination that makes them the most trusted name in ensuring the obvious does not go unnoted.

In addition, let's recall that midway through the debate, Rick Perry said, "If you're saying that I can be bought for ,000, I'm offended." So, as I tweeted earlier, tonight's biggest loser was "anyone who didn't donate more than ,000 to Rick Perry."

-- Jason Linkins

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And the final tweet from @HuffPost Hill: "TONIGHT'S LOSER: Hypothetical sick 30-year-old. TONIGHT'S WINNER: Death. Good night."

-- Ryan Grim

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Another debate, another chance to put Ron Paul and Rick Santorum against each other on foreign policy. Paul, as is his wont, decried U.S. militarism abroad, suggesting that there's a distinction to be discerned between defense spending and money spent on nation-building, overseas bases and foreign occupation. "Can you imagine how we would react if China did to us, what we are doing in these countries?" Paul asked.

Santorum must have been making some loud bit-chomping noises, because Blitzer tossed right to him for a response. Santorum decried Paul for posting an article on his campaign website which, to Santorum's estimation, "blamed the United States for 9/11."

"This whole idea that they're attacking us because of our freedom is just not true," Paul said, insisting that the U.S. drew a target on itself for having military bases in Saudi Arabia and for not dealing fairly with the Palestinians.

That drew a fair share of boos and catcalls from the audience -- reminding once again that while people often conflate the "Tea Party" with the grassroots support that has grown up around Ron Paul over the past few years, the two are not the same. Paul's supporters do not boo Paul when he makes the same foreign policy arguments he's made in now two presidential runs.

-- Jason Linkins

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Rick Perry has been relatively silent on foreign policy, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Tonight, he said he believed that the U.S. should continue to have a "presence" in Afghanistan, but that it was time to start transitioning responsibility over to the Afghans:

I agree with Gov. Huntsman when we talk about it's time to bring our young men and women home as soon -- and obviously as safely -- as we can. But it's really important for us to continue to have a presence there. I think the entire conversation about how do we deliver our aid to those countries -- and is it best spent with 100,000 military who have the target on their back in Afghanistan? I don't think so at this particular point in time.

I think the best way for us to be able to impact that country is to make a transition to where that country's military is going to be taking care of their people. Bring our young men and women home. And continue to help them build the infrastructure that we need, whether it's schools for young women like yourself or otherwise.

-- Amanda Terkel

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"For Rick to say you can't secure the border, I think, is pretty much a treasonous comment," said Huntsman, apparently joking, eliciting "Ooos" from the audience and a chuckle from Perry. His comment came after Perry discussed signing legislation giving some undocumented immigrants in-state tuition at Texas colleges and universities.

-- Amanda Terkel

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The jubilant shouts of members of the GOP audience encouraging the death of a hypothetical uninsured man bring to mind the 2009 House floor speech delivered by former Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, in which he famously charged: "The Republicans want you to die quickly if you get sick." Members of the crowd at the Tampa debate agree with Grayson.

-- Ryan Grim

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A bit of a startling moment happened near the end of Monday night's CNN debate when a hypothetical question was posed to Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas).

What do you tell a guy who is sick, goes into a coma and doesn't have health insurance? Who pays for his coverage? "Are you saying society should just let him die?" Wolf Blitzer asked.

"Yeah!" several members of the crowd yelled out.

Paul interjected to offer an explanation for how this was, more-or-less, the root choice of a free society. He added that communities and non-government institutions can fill the void that the public sector is currently playing.

"We never turned anybody away form the hospital," he said of his volunteer work for churches and his career as a doctor. "We have given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves, assume responsibility for ourselves ... that's the reason the cost is so high."

The answer may have struck a truly libertarian tone but it was clearly overshadowed by the members of the crowd who enthusiastically cheered the prospect of letting a man die rather than picking up the tab for his coverage.

-- Sam Stein

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the mother of three daughters, went after Rick Perry for his 2007 executive order mandating that young girls in Texas be vaccinated against HPV, the most common sexually transmitted disease and one that can lead to cervical cancer.

"To have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. That's a violation of a liberty interest," she said.

She then argued that Perry had a conflict-of-interest because one of his top staffers was a lobbyist for Merck, the drug company that manufactured the vaccine.

"I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order, there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can't deny that," Bachmann said, referring to Merck.

"What I'm saying is that it's wrong for a drug company -- because the governor's former chief of staff was the chief lobbyist for this drug company. The drug company gave thousands of dollars in political donations to the governor, and this is just flat-out wrong. The question is, is it about life, or was it about millions of dollars and potentially billions for a drug company?"

Perry clarified that he received a ,000 donation from Merck. "I raised about million," he said. "And if you're saying that I can be bought for ,000, I'm offended."

"Well, I'm offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn't have a choice," replied Bachmann. "That's what I'm offended for."

The Bachmann campaign quickly sent out a press release on Perry's HPV record:

Texas Governor Rick Perry has admitted he was mistaken to issue his 2007 executive order mandating the Gardasil vaccine against a sexually-transmitted disease for 11-year-old girls. However, it remains unclear how much his ties to Merck, Gardasil's maker, influenced this decision. Key advisors to Perry worked for Merck as lobbyists before and after he issued this executive order and Merck donated ,000 to Perry in 2007. The drug maker stood to make tens of millions off Perry's order until the legislature overturned it. ....

Lobbyist Mike Toomey served as Perry's chief of staff for two years, then went on to lobby for gambling interests and the manufacturer of the HPV vaccine. ...

Internal Perry office emails show frequent contact and coordination with Merck lobbyists, such as Mike Toomey and Lara Keel, in the weeks leading up to Perry's decision on the executive order.

Perry's campaign also issued a statement, saying, "Governor Perry has always been a strong believer in protecting parental rights, which is why this executive order allowed parents to make the final decision about whether or not their daughter was vaccinated. ... Gov. Perry stands firmly on the side of protecting life, and he viewed the issue in that context since HPV is a leading cause of cervical cancer in women. However, he has said that, in hindsight, his order was a mistake because citizens should have had the opportunity to express their opinions beforehand on such a sensitive issue."

Perry claimed that he received a ,000 donation from Merck during his re-election campaign. He actually received ,000.

-- Amanda Terkel

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Perry started out well on the first key exchange tonight, defending himself well on the Social Security issue. But in the subsequent two exchanges that mattered, he's taken on water. He was dinged by Ron Paul on his jobs record. It was a minor ding, but a ding nonetheless. However, his second low moment is one that may haunt him. Bachmann and Rick Santorum went postal on his attempt to mandate a vaccination for the human papillomavirus for sixth-grade girls in 2007.

Bachmann was the first to point out that Perry's former chief of staff Mike Toomey was a lobbyist for Merck, the drug company that would have benefited from the vaccinations. Perry's low point in the debate may have been when he said that the amount of money that Merck donated to his campaign was, essentially, not enough to buy him off. No doubt he did not mean to imply he could be bought, but that was the implication of how it sounded.

-- Jon Ward

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After all the build-up about Social Security being the issue that Romney was going to thwack Rick Perry with, it turns out that Perry's gotten the strongest attacks of the night for his decision to inoculate children against the human papillomavirus. Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum went at him on all sides -- as Perry ran for cover by saying that he would have done things differently if he had to do it all over again. Santorum wasn't particularly amenable to that argument: "I'm saying it was bad policy." Bachmann referred to the vaccine as a "government injection."

It will be interesting to see what hay the media makes of this tonight and tomorrow. They invested pretty heavily in the "Perry as Social Security Pinata" fight ahead of the debate tonight, but the HPV controversy ended up being a more sustained attack that turned the crowd against Perry. Bachmann's campaign, by the way, had a press release titled "Rick Perry's Crony Capitalism: The 2007 Vaccination Executive Order Fiasco" ready to go, and they put it in reporters' inboxes while the argument raged on TV.

-- Jason Linkins

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The bruised relationship between the Republican Party and the Federal Reserve was on dramatic display in response to a question about whether the Federal Reserve should be audited. Such a look-see into the workings of the central bank was considered radical just a few years ago; it was only over the staunch opposition of Wall Street and the leadership in both parties that a watered-down measure to partially audit the Fed became law in 2010. But the policy now seems to be uniformly backed by the GOP's presidential contenders.

"Of course we should see what the Fed is doing," Romney said.

Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Santorum all backed a Fed audit, as well, while arguing that it should no longer focus on increasing employment, restricting its focus to inflation.

Rick Perry stood by his controversial Fed comments from earlier in the campaign, when he said that Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke would be treated "ugly" in Texas and that his monetary policy was "almost treasonous." Perry slightly softened the charge, saying that Bernanke himself wasn't a traitor, but that using the Fed for political purposes was "almost treasonous." Bernanke is a Republican.

-- Ryan Grim

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Newt Gingrich called out President Obama for his association with GE Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, who sat in the first lady's box during Obama's jobs speech last week.

When asked by moderator Wolf Blitzer whether it was fair that many oil companies receive huge tax breaks, Gingrich pointed out that last year, GE paid zero taxes.

"I was astonished the other night to have the president there in the joint session with the head of GE sitting up there, and the president talking about taking care of loopholes. And I thought to myself, 'Doesn't he realize that every green tax credit is a loophole? That everything he wants -- everything General Electric is doing -- is a loophole?'"

-- Amanda Terkel

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@ AriFleischer : Newt is one of the ethanol tax break's biggest defenders. He stopped an effort to kill it in 1995 .#CNNTeaParty

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The second key moment in the debate tonight, as it relates to Rick Perry's fortunes, came when Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) went after the Texas governor. Paul was asked if Perry should get credit for Texas' job growth. Not only did Paul say no, he said that under Perry, his taxes have doubled, the state's debt has tripled and 170,000 of the state's new jobs were government jobs.

That came moments after Romney had gotten in a nice jab at Perry, saying that under the previous two governors, Democrat Ann Richards and Republican George W. Bush, job growth per year was higher: 2.5 percent for Richards, 3.5 percent for Bush and 1 percent for Perry.

Perry is looking good overall, but the shots from Paul will bloody him a little. Maybe a reason why Perry should have avoided going after the Texas congressman in the last debate.

-- Jon Ward

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Rick Perry's record of job creation in Texas was assaulted by both Mitt Romney and Rep. Ron Paul, a GOP congressman from Perry's state of Texas.

Romney acknowledged that Texas has had significant job growth, but he compared Perry to a lucky poker player.

"I think the governor would agree with me that if you're dealt four aces, that doesn't make you necessarily a great poker player," Romney said. "And the four aces that are terrific aces -- the ones the nation should learn from -- are the ones I described: zero income tax, low regulation, right to work state, oil in the ground and Republican legislature. Those things are terrific."

When asked if Perry deserves all the credit for job creation, Paul replied, "Not quite."

"I'm a taxpayer there," Paul said. "My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he took office. Our debt has gone up nearly triple. So no -- and 170,000 of the jobs were government jobs. So I would put a little damper on this, but I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes or something."

Perry said that people are coming to Texas "because there's a land of freedom in America -- freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over-litigation and freedom from over-regulation."

-- Amanda Terkel

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@ howardfineman : Mitt missed chance to ask Perry what private capital he'd ever risked. The answer: very little, when he was a govt-protected cotton farmer.

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Does Michele Bachmann, if elected president, intend to not raise the debt ceiling? That's the promise she makes tonight, repeating a promise she's made since she jumped into the race. Bachmann, of course, believes that the S&P downgrade came as a result of the fact that the debt ceiling was raised at all, rather than the infighting over the debt ceiling. For the record, here's what S&P had to say about all of that:

A Standard & Poor's director said for the first time Thursday that one reason the United States lost its triple-A credit rating was that several lawmakers expressed skepticism about the serious consequences of a credit default - a position put forth by some Republicans.

Without specifically mentioning Republicans, S&P senior director Joydeep Mukherji said the stability and effectiveness of American political institutions were undermined by the fact that "people in the political arena were even talking about a potential default," Mukherji said.

"That a country even has such voices, albeit a minority, is something notable," he added. "This kind of rhetoric is not common amongst AAA sovereigns."

Beyond that, someone really needs to explain to Bachmann that one cannot have, at least in this reality, a ".4 trillion blank check." Either the check is blank, or it has "2,400,000,000,000" on it. It cannot be both.

-- Jason Linkins

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While former Bush administration officials have known to have testy relationships with Rick Perry, former Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer wrote on Twitter, "Perry, just standing there, exudes strength. It's one of his big advantages. #CNNTeaParty"

-- Amanda Terkel

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@ howardfineman : Perry playing on Tea Party home court courtesy of CNN, has the best sound-bite red meat for the crowd and the swagger to deliver it.

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Just minutes after Rick Perry and Mitt Romney engaged in a tense exchange on Social Security, the Perry campaign sent out a press release headlined, "Setting the Record Straight on Social Security."

"While Governor Rick Perry is having an honest conversation with the American people about the future of Social Security, Candidate Mitt Romney is posturing and running from his past positions," writes the Perry camp.

The campaign is trying to argue that Romney has also tried to "scare" senior citizens about the state of Social Security, which the former Massachusetts governor is now accusing Perry of doing.

They point out a passage from "Citizen Romney's" book:

“Let’s look at what would happen if someone in the private sector did a similar thing. Suppose two grandparents created a trust fund, appointed a bank as trustee, and instructed the bank to invest the proceeds of the trust fund so as to provide for their grandchildren’s education. Suppose further that the bank used the proceeds for its own purposes, so that when the grandchildren turned eighteen, there was no money for them to go to college. What would happen to the bankers responsible for misusing the money? They would go to jail. But what has happened to the people responsible for the looming bankruptcy of Social Security? They keep returning to Congress every two years.”

During the debate, Perry said that Romney, in his book, had essentially called Social Security a "criminal" enterprise. The audience applauded loudly.

Romney accused Perry of quoting him inaccurately, responding: "What I said was Congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal, and it is, and it's wrong."

-- Amanda Terkel

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Rep. Thad McCotter (R-Mich.) who is, as of tonight, still a Republican presidential candidate, clearly could care less about his own run for office and the campaigns being launched by his theoretical competitors.

"Tigers 0 - White Sox 1, Top of 2nd. Go Tigers!" he tweeted, as each Republican presidential candidate was pressed on their job creation plans.

-- Sam Stein

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@ HuffPostPol : Huntsman calls for U.S. to be weaned off 'heroin-like addiction' to foreign oil. #cnnteaparty

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In a segment of the debate geared around debt and deficit reduction, the GOP presidential field was asked if, as president, they would repeal the Bush-era Medicare prescription drug program, which came in at a lower-than-predicted cost but still wasn’t paid for and is a driver of the deficit.

No one on stage said they would do so. Rick Perry noted that it was a trillion hole "that we have in our budget that we have to deal with." Mitt Romney said he wouldn't repeal it but he would "reform Medicare and Medicaid." Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas) said he would find "a lot of cuts in a lot of other places." Rep. Michele Bachmann ducked the issue, largely.

But former Sen. Rick Santorum had the best response. The Pennsylvania Republican actually voted for the bill while in Congress. He had the chance to demand that it be paid for and didn't. Asked what he would do as president, however, costs now seemed to matter.

"I think we would keep the prescription drug component. But we have to pay for it," he said.

-- Sam Stein

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@ howardfineman : Last time we heard "slam dunk" was when George Tenet was reassuring George W. Bush about Iraq WMD intel.

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CNN went right for the sexiest part of the media narrative -- getting a question up about Social Security, in order to get Mitt Romney and Rick Perry fighting over their respective stances (or, in the case of Rick Perry, the stance he takes in his book, "Fed Up!" that he's now trying to moderate somewhat). Romney attempted to hold Perry's stance -- that the program is unconstitutional, and that the states should run it instead. Perry essentially weaved his way through Romney's pesterings, and ended up with the crowd fairly clearly on his side. But why didn't Romney explain why the program wasn't workable at the state level?

Ian Millhiser described what life would be like under such a plan back in November of 2010:

A workable plan to allow states to opt out of Social Security would require draconian provisions, such as a mandate that everyone must retire in the same state that they worked and paid taxes in. Otherwise, workers who are too young to receive Social Security benefits would move to an opt-out state to avoid paying Social Security taxes — and then promptly move to a state with Social Security benefits the moment they became eligible. Eventually, the entire system would collapse under the weight of too many Social Security beneficiaries who had not paid into the system.

Had Romney described that reality, he might have fared better.

-- Jason Linkins

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The pivotal moment of the first back and forth between Romney and Perry over Social Security, in my view, was when Perry accused Romney of trying to scare seniors by saying Perry wants to end the program. That got a big cheer from the audience, which is heavy on conservative activists invited by Tea Party groups. Republicans who want to change Social Security and Medicare say they want to save the programs, not end them, and feel like the usual treatment they get from Democrats is commercials like this:

Add to that the fact that Perry got the obligatory first comments in there about guaranteeing benefits for current Social Security recipients and those about to retire, it was a good exchange for him. And Romney lost some leverage on the issue.

-- Jon Ward

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Mitt Romney refused to let Rick Perry off the Social Security hook, challenging him at the start of the debate to repudiate the position in his book that the old-age and insurance program is a "Ponzi scheme" that should be run by the states.

"Do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program?" Romney asked.

"We should have a conversation," Perry replied.

"We're having that right now," Romney said. "You're running for president."

Perry didn't back down from the Ponzi rhetoric, arguing that "this is a broken system, it has been called a Ponzi scheme long before me."

"The term Ponzi scheme is over the top, unnecessary and frightening to many people," Romney replied.

Perry, as of the end of the exchange, was still holding on to the view that states should take a bigger role in the program -- a policy solution that would end Social Security.

The applause, however, was nearly all on Perry's side.

-- Ryan Grim

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Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), taking the first question of tonight's GOP presidential debate, chose to go after President Obama with a line that certainly ups the rhetorical stakes of the entitlement debate.

President Obama, she said, "stole over 500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare."

"Stole" is a much more provocative attack than the traditional Republican line, which holds that Obama simply cut Medicare by 0 billion over the course of 10 years. And it gets at a particular issue confronting the president going forward, as he gets set to make recommendations to the congressional super committee -- recommendations that will, in all likelihood, include a hefty portion of reforms and cuts to Medicare.

-- Sam Stein

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