Eight Republican candidates hit the stage on Wednesday night to participate in California's first presidential debate of the 2012 election season.
The following contenders took part in the GOP primary 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.
The debate was hosted by NBC News and Politico. It was moderated by Brian Williams and John Harris.
Click here for highlights from the debate. HuffPost's Jon Ward has a rundown on the significance of the event for Perry and Romney, who are currently considered the frontrunners in the race for the Republican presidential nomination.
Below, the full transcript of the debate via NBC News.
WILLIAMS: Tonight, from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library, in a place dedicated to the memory of this Republican icon, in the 100th year after his birth, we will hear from the eight candidates who would like to claim his legacy. They're all here tonight ready to explain and defend their positions on job creation, on spending, debt, and taxes, on America's costly dual wars, and the toxic gridlock that is Washington, D.C.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California, the Republican candidates debate. Here now are Brian Williams and John Harris.
WILLIAMS: Thank you very much. Thank you very much. Good evening, and welcome.
Thank you especially for joining us here in this spectacular space, this spectacular presidential library, where we are all gathered under the wings of Air Force One. We're going to get right to it tonight because we have a lot of candidates on stage, a lot of issues to talk about.
And for the next hour and 45 minutes, give or take, along with my colleague and friend, John Harris of the website Politico, we will be putting questions to the eight candidates on stage tonight. By agreement, they will have one minute to answer and then 30 seconds for follow-up or rebuttal, as they say, at the moderator's discretion. There will be no opening or closing statements during this debate tonight. With that out of the way, we're going to start with jobs and the economy. The numbers from our new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll this week are, candidly, jaw-dropping. The country thinks the economy is going to get worse before it gets better. A majority of people in this country now believe the Republican policies of the first eight years of the past decade are responsible for the economic mess we're in. And we should quickly add, a majority also don't believe the current Democratic president has set the right policies to fix the fix we're in. Question is, really, who can?
Governor Perry, we're going to begin with you. You're the newcomer here on stage. You probably saw this coming a mile away. You have touted your state's low taxes, the lack of regulation, tough tort reform as the recipe for job growth in the Lone Star State, but Texas ranks last among those who have completed high school, there are only eight other states with more living in poverty, no other state has more working at or below the minimum wage. So is that the kind of answer all Americans are looking for?
PERRY: Actually, what Americans are looking for is someone who can get this country working again. And we put the model in place in the state of Texas. When you look at what we have done over the last decade, we created 1 million jobs in the state of Texas. At the same time, America lost 2.5 million.
So I will suggest to you that Americans are focused on the right issue, and that is, who on this stage can get America working? Because we know for a fact the resident of the White House cannot.
WILLIAMS: But you know by now the counterargument to that is the number of low-wage jobs and the fact that unemployment is better in over half the states of the union than it is right now in Texas.
PERRY: Well, the first part of that comment is incorrect, because 95 percent of all the jobs that we've created have been above minimum wage.
So I'm proud of what we've done in the state of Texas. And for the White House or anyone else to be criticizing creation of jobs now in America, I think is a little bit hypocritical.
You want to create jobs in America? You free the American entrepreneur to do what he or she does, which is risk their capital, and I'll guarantee you, the entrepreneur in America, the small businessman and woman, they're looking for a president that will say we're going to lower the tax burden on you and we're going to lower the regulation impact on you, and free them to do what they do best: create jobs.
WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, over to you. You've opened the door on this topic, at least where Governor Perry's concerned. Despite your own private-sector experience, as you know, Massachusetts ranked only 47th in job creation during your tenure as governor. As for your private-sector experience, as Governor Perry's strategist recently put it, consisted of being, quote, "a buyout specialist." Your response to that?
ROMNEY: Well, not terribly accurate, at least with regards to the latter. And our state -- I'm happy to take a look at the Massachusetts record, because when I came in as governor, we were in a real freefall. We were losing jobs every month. We had a budget that was way out of balance.
So I came into office, we went to work as a team, and we were able to turn around the job losses. And at the end of four years, we had our unemployment rate down to 4.7 percent. That's a record I think the president would like to see.
As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in Massachusetts than this president has created in the entire country. The policies that will get us working again as a nation are policies I understand having worked in the private sector.
Look, if I had spent my whole life in government, I wouldn't be running for president right now. My experience, having started enterprises, having helped other enterprises grow and thrive, is what gives me the experience to put together a plan to help restructure the basis of America's economic foundation so we can create jobs again, good jobs, and compete with anyone in the world.
This country has a bright future. Our president doesn't understand how the economy works. I do, because I've lived in it.
WILLIAMS: Time, Governor.
Let's get a little more specific. Bain Capital, a company you helped to form, among other things, often buys up companies, strips them down, gets them ready, resells them at a net job loss to American workers.
ROMNEY: You know, that might be how some people would like to characterize what we did, but in fact, we started business at Bain Capital, and when we acquired businesses, in each case we tried to make them bigger, make them more successful and grow. The idea that somehow you can strip things down and it makes them more valuable is not a real effective investment strategy. We tried to make these businesses more successful.
By the way, they didn't all work. But when it was all said and done, and we looked at the record we had during the years I was there, we added tens of thousands of jobs to he businesses we helped support. That experience, succeeding, failing, competing around the world, is what gives me the capacity to help get this economy going again. WILLIAMS: Time.
I mentioned one more reference to being a career politician. Is it a disqualification to be in government all your career?
ROMNEY: It's a fine profession, and if someone were looking to say how can we restructure government, and which agency should report to which other agency, well, maybe that's the best background. If you're thinking about what it takes to reshape and update America's economy, and to allow us to compete with China and other nations around the world, understanding how the economy works fundamentally is a credential I think is critical.
WILLIAMS: Governor Perry, a 30-second rebuttal.
You spent your career in that fine profession of elected office. Your reaction to that?
PERRY: Well, Governor Romney left the private sector, and he did a great job of creating jobs in the private sector all around the world. But the fact is, when he moved that experience to government, he had one of the lowest job creation rates in the country. So the fact is, while he had a good private sector record, his public sector record did not match that. As a matter of fact, we created more jobs in the last three months in Texas than he created in four years in Massachusetts.
WILLIAMS: Well, let's widen this out and let's bring in Mr. Cain on one side --
ROMNEY: Wait a second.
WILLIAMS: Go ahead. I'll give you 30 seconds.
ROMNEY: Listen, wait a second.
WILLIAMS: We could do this all evening.
ROMNEY: States are different. Texas is a great state. Texas has zero income tax. Texas has a right to work state, a Republican legislature, a Republican Supreme Court. Texas has a lot of oil and gas in the ground.
Those are wonderful things, but Governor Perry doesn't believe that he created those things. If he tried to say that, well, it would be like Al Gore saying he invented the Internet.
ROMNEY: Look, the reality is, there are differences. There are differences between states.
I came into a state that was in real trouble -- a huge budget gap, losing jobs every month. We turned it around. Three out of four years, we had unemployment rate below the national average, we ended up with 4.7 percent unemployment rate. I'm proud of what we were able to do in a tough situation.
PERRY: I know back and forth -- Michael Dukakis created jobs three times faster than you did, Mitt.
ROMNEY: Well, as a matter of fact, George Bush and his predecessor created jobs at a faster rate than you did, Governor.
PERRY: That's not correct.
ROMNEY: Yes, that is correct.
WILLIAMS: Nice to see everybody came prepared for tonight's conversation.
WILLIAMS: As I said, I'd like to bring in both wings here, figuratively, of course, Senator Santorum and Mr. Cain.
Let's talk about this debate between public sector life's work and private sector life's work.
You've spent your life's work, Mr. Cain, in the private sector.
And Senator Santorum, most of yours in the public sector.
Weigh in on what you're hearing (ph).
SANTORUM: Yes, I think what people are looking for is someone to get something done. And that's what I have a track record of doing in Washington, D.C., across the board. Not just on economics, but on moral cultural issues, on national security issues, national defense issues.
I've done things. We've brought Democrat and Republicans together.
SANTORUM: I've put forward a plan because I think it's the best plan. But it's also the best plan of anybody here that actually can pass the Senate, which is probably going to have to have Democratic votes. And what I focussed on was a sector of the economy that can get Democratic votes.
We cut the corporate tax from 35 percent to zero, because we want to build the great middle of America again, get those jobs that were shipped overseas by companies that were looking too make a profit because they couldn't any longer do it here], and bring those jobs back to America.
We cut that corporate rate to zero. We've passed repatriation to get that resources that are seen overseas, $1.2 trillion, and we bring them back here.
We'll create jobs, and I'll get Democratic votes to pass it. We'll bring things together, because those industrial state Democrats -- and I know, because I'm from an industrial state -- they will vote for this bill. You want to get something going, elect someone who knows how to get things done.
(UNKNOWN): Time, Senator.
Mr. Cain, same question.
CAIN: Let's cut to the chase, this is what business people do and politicians don't do. Here's how I would fix this economy, first, eliminate the current tax code. It is a drain on entrepreneurs, it is the biggest barrier that's holding this economy back, and what I would do is to propose a bold plan, which I have already released.
I call it my 9-9-9 economic growth plan. Throw out the current tax code, a 9 percent tax on corporate income, our 9 percent tax on personal income and a 9 percent national sales tax. If 10 percent is good enough for God, 9 percent ought to be good enough for the fellow government. This will replace all federal income taxes. It'll replace all federal income taxes.
It will also replace the payroll tax, so everybody gets some skin in the game. And it replaces the capital gains tax.
This economy is on life support. We do not need a solution that just trims around the edges. This is a bold plan and a bold solution. Additionally, with something as simple as 9-9-9, it gives us a easy mechanism to go after -- help those cities that are the most blighted in terms of empowerment zones, and we can modify that very easily versus the current code.
(UNKNOWN): Mr. Cain, thank you.
Governor Huntsman, as you know, Governor Romney's new economic plan calls for the U.S. government to officially label China a currency manipulator, But "The Wall Street Journal" editorial page says such a move would cause a trade war, perhaps.
You're a former ambassador to China. You have served four U.S. presidents. In your view, what does Governor Romney not get about China?
HUNTSMAN: He doesn't get the part that what will fix the U.S- China relationship, realistically, is fixing our core right here at home, because our core is weak, and it is broken, and we have no leverage at the negotiating table.
And I'd have to say, Mitt, now is not the time in a recession to enter a trade war. Ronald Reagan flew this plane. I was in China during the trip in 1984. He went on TV, he spoke to the Chinese people -- I'd love to do that too, in Chinese itself -- and he talked in optimistic, glowing terms.
And it reminds me about this, Ryan, we are the most blue sky, optimistic people on earth. We're going to find solutions, and I have an offer for the two great governors over here.
And I hate to rain on the parade of the Lone Star governor, but as governor of Utah, we were the number one job creator in this country during my years of service. That was 5.9 percent when you were creating jobs at 4.9 percent.
And to my good friend, Mitt, 47 just ain't going to cut it, my friend, not when you can be first. We've got to remember, that to beat President Obama, we have to have somebody who's been in the private sector, understands the fragility of the free market system, has been a successful governor as it relates to job creation, and knows something about this world.
I've lived overseas four times, I've been an ambassador to my country three times, I think I understand that.
(UNKNOWN): Governor Huntsman, time.
Congresswoman Bachmann, over to you. Of all of you on this stage, you've been very vocal about wanting less regulation in American life. Which current federal regulations have been prohibitive or damaging in terms of your own small business?
BACHMANN: Well, I think without a doubt, there's two that you look to. First of all are the new regulations that are just being put into place with ObamaCare. As I go across the country and speak to small business people, men and women, they tell me ObamaCare is leading them to not create jobs. I spent three weekends going to restaurants, and I talked to business owners, said I have 60 people on my payroll, I have to let 10 go. At the same time, a 17-year-old girl came in and said, I'd like a job application for the summer.
He said, I'm sorry, dear, I'm not hiring this summer, I'm actually letting people go. ObamaCare is killing jobs. We know that from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. But I know it first-hand from speaking to people.
We see it this summer. There are 47 percent of African-American youth that are currently without jobs, 36 percent of Hispanic youth. I'm a mom. I've raised five biological kids and 23 foster kids in my home. One thing I know is that kids need jobs. And ObamaCare is clearly leading to job-killing regulations, not job-creating regulations.
(UNKNOWN): (Inaudible), thank you.
Over to Congressman Paul, you're known as the absolutist in the bunch, someone who has consistently opposed federal government from having any role -- and I think by your definition -- that isn't explicitly laid out in the Constitution.
So this makes people curious: Is there a line with you? Where do you draw it? Does this include things like making cars safe, making medicine safe, air traffic control controlling the jets above our heads?
PAUL: I think in theory, if you understood the free market in a free society, you don't need government to do that. We live in a society where we have been adapted to this, and you can't just drop it all at once, but you can transition away from it.
On regulations, no, I don't believe in any of these federal regulations, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in regulations. The regulation of the marketplace takes care of it. Just think if we had the regulations on the market that dealt with the bankruptcies? They'd have had to go bankrupt. We wouldn't have been able to bail out the big banks and the big corporations and dump onto poor people.
So the market would dictate it. You can't commit fraud. If you need detailed regulations, you can do it at the state level. But the federal government is not authorized to nitpick every little transaction. The way they use the interstate commerce clause is outrageous, as far as I'm concerned.
WILLIAMS: Well, 30 seconds more for devil's advocate here, because would you then put it on the drug companies to say, "No, we're bringing this to market, trust us, it's a fantastic drug"? All the pilots in the sky, to add to their responsibilities, their own air traffic control, in an organic way?
PAUL: What I said is, theoretically, you could -- it could be privatized, but who ends up doing the regulations on the drugs? They do as much harm as good. They don't take good care of us. Who gets -- who gets to write the regulations? The bureaucrats write the regulations, but who writes the laws? The lobbyists have control, so lobbyists from the drug industry has control of writing the regulations, so you turn it over to the bureaucracy.
But you would have private institutions that could become credible. And, I mean, do we need the federal government to tell us whether we buy a safe car? I say the consumers of America are smart enough to decide what kind of car they can buy and whether it's safe or not, and they don't need the federal government hounding them and putting so much regulations on that our car industry has gone overseas.
WILLIAMS: Congressman, thank you.
Over to Speaker Gingrich.
Mr. Speaker, as you remember, you wrote the foreword to Rick Perry's most recent book called "Fed Up," and you called him, quote, "uniquely qualified to explain what's taking place with the economy." Does that mean, in terms of job creation credentials, he has your proxy at a gathering like this?
GINGRICH: No, but it means that, if he wants to write another book, I'll write another foreword.
As he himself -- look, he's said himself, that was an interesting book of ideas by somebody who's not proposing a manifesto for president. And I think to go back and try to take that apart is silly.
But let me just use my time for a second, if I might, Brian. I served during the Reagan campaign with people like Jack Kemp and Art Laffer. We had an idea for job creation. I served as a freshman -- or as a sophomore helping pass the Reagan's jobs program. At newt.org, I put out last Friday the response to the Obama stagnation.
The fact is, if you took the peak of the Reagan unemployment, which he inherited from Carter, by last Friday, going month by month, under Ronald Reagan, we'd have 3,700,000 more Americans working.
When I was speaker, we added 11 million jobs, in a bipartisan effort, including welfare reform, the largest capital gains tax cut in history. We balanced the budget for four straight years.
The fact that President Obama doesn't come to the Reagan Library to try to figure out how to create jobs, doesn't talk to any of these three governors to learn how to create jobs, doesn't talk to Herman Cain to learn how to create jobs tells you that this is a president so committed to class warfare and so committed to bureaucratic socialism that he can't possibly be effective in jobs.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, thank you. (APPLAUSE)
The questioning -- the questioning continues with John Harris.
HARRIS: Thank you. Thank you, Brian.
It didn't take you folks long to mix it up on the question of jobs. I'd like to turn to another subject that's been dominating this campaign. It's health care. Governor Romney, four years ago on this same stage, you had this to say about your record in Massachusetts.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ROMNEY: ... great opportunity for the entire country.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS: Well, he had a lot more to say than that, didn't he?
HARRIS: I'm sorry. We had a little bit of a glitch right there, but, Governor, you said that what you did in Massachusetts was a great opportunity for the country. I'm going to get to you in just a minute.
What I'd first like to do is ask if anyone else on this stage agrees that the Massachusetts example was a great opportunity for the rest of the country.
PERRY: It was a great opportunity for us as a people to see what will not work, and that is an individual mandate in this country.
HARRIS: Got it. That actually, Governor Romney, leads to my question. I've heard you on this many times before. You said some things about the Massachusetts law worked; other things didn't work as well. Let's go to what Governor Perry mentioned, the individual mandate, the government saying that people have to buy health insurance. Was that one of the things that worked in Massachusetts?
ROMNEY: Let's step back and make sure I make something very clear from the very outset. I understand health care pretty darn well, having been through what I went through as a governor. And one thing I'd do on day one if I'm elected president is direct my secretary of health and human services to put out an executive order granting a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states. It is bad law, it will not work, and I'll get that done in day one.
(APPLAUSE) Now, number two, what we face in our state is different than what other states face. What we had is a lot of people who found that they could simply stop getting insurance, go to the hospital, and get free care paid for by the people, paid for by taxpayers. We were spending hundreds of millions of dollars in our state giving care to people who in some cases could afford to take care of themselves.
And we said, you know what? You've either got to get insurance, if you can afford it, or you're going to have to help pay the cost of providing that care to your -- to you. And that was the approach that we took.
It's a model that lets other states take a look at it. Some parts of it have been copied by other states; some haven't. One thing I know, and that is that what President Obama put in place is not going to work. It's massively expensive. In our state, our plan covered 8 percent of the people, the uninsured.
HARRIS: Governor, time.
ROMNEY: His plan is taking over 100 percent of the people, and the American people don't like it and should vote it down.
HARRIS: Thank you, Governor.
Governor Perry, you clearly don't like the Massachusetts plan as an example for other states, but Massachusetts has nearly universal health insurance. It's first in the country. In Texas, about a quarter of the people don't have health insurance. That's 50 out of 50, dead last. Sir, it's pretty hard to defend dead last.
PERRY: Well, I'll tell you what the people in the state of Texas don't want: They don't want a health care plan like what Governor Romney put in place in Massachusetts. What they would like to see is the federal government get out of their business.
For Medicaid, for instance -- as a matter of fact, I bet Mitt and Jon would both agree -- and I know Newt would, as well -- Medicaid needs to be block-granted back to the states so that we can use the innovation in the states, come up with the best ways to deliver health care.
My wife is a nurse. And I'll promise you, we understand that if we can get the federal government out of our business in the states when it comes to health care, we'll come up with ways to deliver more health care to more people cheaper than what the federal government is mandating today with their strings attached, here's how you do it, one-size-fits-all effort out of Washington, D.C.
That's got to stop. And I'll promise you: On day one, as the president of the United States, that executive order will be signed and Obamacare will be wiped out as much as it can be.
HARRIS: Governor, quick follow-up. Why are so many people in Texas uninsured? PERRY: Well, bottom line is that we would not have that many people uninsured in the state of Texas if you didn't have the federal government. We've had requests in for years at the Health and Human Services agencies to have that type of flexibility where we could have menus, where we could have co-pays, and the federal government refuses to give us that flexibility.
We know for a fact that, given that freedom, the states can do a better job of delivering health care. And you'll see substantially more people not just in Texas, but all across the country have access to better health care.
BACHMANN: John? John?
HARRIS: Thank you. Just one minute. I'd like to go to Governor Huntsman, if I could, because at the heart of this is this argument about the individual mandate. Is it ever appropriate for government at any level -- federal or state -- to force people to buy health insurance?
HUNTSMAN: Absolutely not. You know, at some point, we're going to get around to talking about individual and personal responsibility. And I'm raising seven kids. I've got a couple of them here. The most important thing we can do in this health care debate -- right, Rick -- is talk about individual responsibility, personal responsibility.
But I've got another solution for you, with these two great governors over there, both of whom I like and admire. And I hate to tell you that the situation in Utah is pretty darn good, but I want to draw you to another example there. We embarked upon health care reform. We did better than Rick, in terms of covering the uninsured, and we don't have a mandate. It allows the free market to create a marketplace of choices and options for people.
I believe that once Obamacare is repealed -- and it will be -- the question will then be, what do we do now? And I'm here to tell you that what we did in Utah is going to be a perfect example of what we do now.
We approach cost-cutting, cost overruns, harmonizing medical records, which doctors will tell you is a hugely consequential deal, and expanding the marketplace for choices and options for individuals to choose from, without a heavy-handed and expensive mandate that has caused...
HARRIS: Thank you.
HUNTSMAN: ... for the average family in Massachusetts $2,500 bucks to go up.
HARRIS: Thanks. Thanks, Governor.
Congresswoman Bachmann, let's turn to you. Is Governor Romney's support of an individual mandate in Massachusetts, is that disqualifying from the point of view of conservative voters?
BACHMANN: Well, what I want to say is that Obamacare took over one-sixth of the American economy. And with all due respect to the governors, issuing an executive order will not overturn this massive law. This will take a very strong, bold leader in the presidency who will lead that effort.
None of us should ever have ourselves think that the repeal bill will just come to our desk. It will take a very strong leader.
I was the first member of Congress to introduce the bill to actually repeal Obamacare. As the nominee of the Republican Party, it will be my business to make sure that I elect also 13 more Republican senators who will help me repeal Obamacare.
This is the issue of 2012, together with jobs. This is our window of opportunity. If we fail to repeal Obamacare in 2012, it will be with us forever, and it will be socialized medicine. It must be gone now, and as president of the United States, I won’t rest until I repeal Obamacare.
HARRIS: Speaker Gingrich, it sounds like we’ve got a genuine philosophical disagreement. In Massachusetts, a mandate, almost no one uninsured. In Texas, a more limited approach, about a quarter uninsured.
Who’s got the better end of this argument?
GINGRICH: Well, I’m frankly not interested in your effort to get Republicans fighting each other.
HARRIS: Speaker Boehner –
GINGRICH: No, the fact is — the fact is –
HARRIS: But we’ve got a choice between the individual mandate or not. So go ahead.
GINGRICH: You have — you would like to puff this up into some giant thing.
The fact is, every single person up here understands Obamacare is a disaster. It is a disaster procedurally, it was rammed through after they lost Teddy Kennedy’s seat in Massachusetts, it was written badly, it was never reconciled. It can’t be implemented, it is killing this economy.
And if this president had any concern for working Americans, he’d walk in Thursday night and ask us to repeal it because it’s a monstrosity. Every person up here agrees with that.
GINGRICH: Since I still have a little time left, let me just say, I, for one, and I hope all of my friends up here, are going to repudiate every effort of the news media to get Republicans to fight each other to protect Barack Obama, who deserves to be defeated. And all of us are committed as a team. Whoever the nominee is, we are all for defeating Barack Obama.
HARRIS: Mr. Cain, I’d like you to get in this, but my understanding of why conservatives don’t like the Obama plan, the individual mandate is at the heart of it. So this is a genuine philosophical disagreement that I’d like your view on.
Is the individual mandate ever justified at the state level or the federal level?
CAIN: No. An individual mandate to buy something is not constitutional.
Now, back in the early 1990s, I worked with Speaker Gingrich to fight Hillarycare. I have been outspoken fighting Obamacare, which needs to be repealed. Now I’m running against Romneycare. Neither one of them works.
Here’s what I would do. Let’s patient-centered, market-driven reforms. You lose a pay loss. Some people call it tort reform. Lose a pay loss.
Let’s expand medical savings accounts versus what the president did in Obamacare. He shrunk health savings accounts. Let’s allow association health plans.
When I ran the National Restaurant Association -- today it has 14 million people -- we wanted to put together a plan that would be tailored to the constituency of that industry. We could not do it. We would have been able to do it cheaper and cover more people if we didn’t have the restrictions that are out there today that are preventing the free market from bringing down costs and increasing access.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Cain, thank you.
WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, on another front, you’re a devout Catholic. You’ve always said that you cannot, will not, place it aside in your role in elected public life. In fact, you thought President Kennedy, the first to be elected president, did so a little too much with his own religion.
Having said that, the Catholic faith has, as a part of it, caring for the poor. One in seven people in this country now qualifies as poor.
Where do the poor come in? Where do they place in this party, on this stage, in a Santorum administration?
SANTORUM: There is no one in the 12 years I was in the United States Senate that did more to work on poverty issues, and working on the poor, than Rick Santorum.
I was the author when I was in the House of Representatives, under the tutelage of Newt Gingrich at the time, of the Welfare Reform Act. And we didn’t pass welfare reform to cut money. We didn’t pass welfare reform to punish anybody.
We changed the welfare system because it was punishing people. We had a federal system that was creating a culture of dependency, and we went out and talked to the American public and said, trust us to end this federal entitlement and put a work requirement in place, put a time limit on welfare. Give the flexibility to the states, where they block grant, and we will transform this system from a dependency system to a transitional system. And it worked.
Half the people in this country were dropped off the rolls, and they didn’t go into poverty. In fact, poverty went to the lowest level ever in 2001. The rate of black poverty among children, lowest-ever recorded. Working women who were never married went to the highest level, increased by 50 percent.
We transformed the welfare system because we believed in the dignity of every human person to be able to provide for themselves. We believed in bottom-up, not top-down.
We need to do the same thing with food stamps. We need to do the same things with housing programs. All of these other means-tested entitlement programs that are creating a culture of dependency have to be changed not to save money, but to save people’s lives.
WILLIAMS: Time, Senator.
WILLIAMS: And Governor Perry, a somewhat related question. I’ll quote the Pew Research Center. They recently found out white households have 20 times the median wealth of black households in the United States.
How would you address that question, that problem, as president?
PERRY: Let me just respond to the last individual where he talked about transitioning this program. Let me tell you what the best thing that we can do in this country for those who need help, is to create an economy where people know that they work hard and they can have a job, and they can best take care of their family, not government. That’s what we need to be doing in this country.
PERRY: And that’s true whether you’re Hispanic or African-American or Asian or Anglo. We need to get focused in this country on creating an environment where the small businessmen and women know that when they risk their capital, they’ve got an opportunity to have a return on their investment. That is the most — as a matter of fact, John Kennedy said that the most powerful welfare reform program was a job, and that’s what we need to get focussed on in this country today.
WILLIAMS: We’re going to take some questions that have come into us via Twitter — John.
HARRIS: Thank you.
These are questions that came to us. We invited questions to Politico, thousands came in.
One of them I’ll ask you, Governor Romney.
Referring to Congresswoman Bachmann’s promise to get gas if she becomes president to down to $2 a gallon, do you agree that a president realistically can do anything about gas prices in the free market?
ROMNEY: Well, what the president can do is make sure that we stop spending about $500 billion a year outside our country, in many cases to nations that are not real friendly with ours, to buy energy from other people. We are an energy-rich nation, and we’re living like an energy-poor nation. And that can’t go on. So we’ve got to develop our oil, our gas, our coal resources, our clean coal, our nuclear power, and of course our renewable resources as well.
If we develop those resources, and we use our capacity to generate energy in a wise way, we can have an impact on global energy prices. Can we get it down to $2? I’m not going to make that prediction, but I can tell you we can become energy-secure, and we can create jobs right here in the United States by developing our own energy resources.
And this president, blocking offshore drilling, stopping the capacity to build new coal plants, this president, having held up nuclear plants and not developing the Marcellus Shale gas and other shale oil around this country, he’s just strangling America’s economy. It’s keeping Americans from working.
He’s keeps talking about green jobs. Where are they? Let’s have real jobs. We can have energy jobs.
Let’s get that done. And if I’m president, I’m making that happen on day one.
HARRIS: OK, Governor. Time.
Congresswoman Bachmann, why don't we hear from you on that? It's your plan.
BACHMANN: Energy is one of the greatest opportunities for job creation that we have in the United States. We just learned today that if the federal government would pull back on all of the regulatory restrictions on American energy production, we could see 1.2 million jobs created in the United States.
We could also see created over 50 percent more American energy production. And we could also see $800 billion more revenue coming into the United States government.
Don't forget the day that President Obama took office, gasoline was $1.79 a gallon. It's entirely possible for us to get back to inexpensive energy.
The problem is, energy is too high. Let's have a goal of bringing it down, because every time gasoline increases 10 cents a gallon, that's $14 billion in economic activity that every American has taken out of their pockets. This is a great solution, and this is the place to start with American job creation.
HARRIS: Governor Huntsman, everybody would like $2 gas, but is it realistic for a president to promise that?
HUNTSMAN: Of course not. We live in -- we live in the free- market economy. I'm not sure that dictating prices is going to get you anywhere.
But let's face the reality of where we are. This is a perfect example of where presidential leadership matters. To have a president who would actually walk out from behind the TelePrompTer, get out of the way, speak from your heart and soul, just tell us about...
... just tell us about where you want this country to go, in terms of what we have in such great abundance, tell us where we think we can find that which we have and convert it into jobs and expanding our industrial base, and reminding the American people that they're not paying $4 per gallon for gas. When you add up the cost of troop deployments, when you add up the cost of keeping the sea lanes open for the importation of imported oil, the bulk and distribution and terminaling costs (ph), it's $13 a gallon, so says the Milken Institute. And I say the American people have had enough. We need a president who's going to provide a little bit of leadership in getting us some direction and opening up the opportunities.
(UNKNOWN): We don't...
HARRIS: Thank you. Congressman Paul, another question from a Politico reader. Do you advocate getting rid of the minimum wage? Would that create more jobs?
PAUL: Absolutely. And it would help the poor, the people who need a job. The minimum wage is a mandate. We're against mandates, so why should we have it? No, it would be very beneficial.
But I was trying to get your attention a little while ago. There's eight of us up here. I'm a physician, but you sure weren't going to ask me any medical question. But I would like to address that just a little bit.
First off, you know, the governor of Texas criticized the governor of Massachusetts for Romneycare, but he wrote a really fancy letter supporting Hillarycare. So we probably ought to ask him about that.
But mandates, that's what the whole society is about. That's what we do all the time. That's what government does: mandate, mandate, mandate. And what we -- we talk so much about the Obama mandate, which is very important, but what about Medicare? Isn't that a mandate? Everything we do is a mandate. So this is why you have to look at this at the cause of liberty. We don't need the government running our lives.
And I -- I do want to address the subject of $2 oil or gasoline, because I can do it much better than that. I can get you a gallon of gasoline for a dime.
HARRIS: Time. Time. Thank you, Congressman.
PAUL: Well, I've got to finish the sentence. You didn't give me time before.
HARRIS: These are rules that all of you agreed to that Brian...
ROMNEY: Let's hear that.
HARRIS: Finish the sentence, or you're all done?
PAUL: OK, I'm going to finish the sentence then. HARRIS: Quickly, please.
PAUL: OK, you can buy a gallon of gasoline today for a silver dime. A silver dime is worth $3.50. It's all about inflation and too many regulations.
HARRIS: Good. Thank you, sir.
Now, Governor Perry, I saw you nod your head.
I saw you nod your head, Governor Perry, at the answer on the minimum wage that would create jobs. Do you agree with that?
PERRY: I actually was nodding my head when he said that I wrote a letter to Hillary and we were hoping...
PERRY: ... that she would be able to come up with something that would not leave the agriculture men and women -- because I was the agriculture commissioner at that particular point in time. We had no idea it was going to be the monstrosity that's known as Hillarycare.
Speaking of letters, I was more interested in the one that you wrote to Ronald Reagan back and said I'm going to quit the party because of the things you believe in.
PAUL: Oh, I need an answer on that.
HARRIS: You've got a 30-second rebuttal, Congressman.
PAUL: I strongly supported Ronald Reagan. I was one of four in Texas -- one of four members of Congress that supported Reagan in '76. And I supported him all along, and I supported his -- his -- all his issues and all his programs.
But in the 1980s, we spent too much, we taxed too much, we built up our deficits, and it was a bad scene. Therefore, I support the message of Ronald Reagan. The message was great. But the consequence, we have to be honest with ourselves. It was not all that great. Huge deficits during the 1980s, and that is what my criticism was for, not for Ronald Reagan's message. His message is a great message.
WILLIAMS: Funny thing about the mail. It kind of tends to live on forever.
To all of you, thank you. We're going to hold in place, take a quick break. Our coverage of the debate from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, will continue right after this.
WILLIAMS: And we are back. Our live coverage continues of the GOP debate here tonight, Simi Valley, California, at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, beneath the huge Air Force One Boeing 707.
I'm with John Harris of the website Politico, and we would be remiss, of course, any gathering in this space would, without a mention, perhaps a short tribute, to one of the most important people here tonight.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
WILLIAMS (voice-over): The legacy represented here at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library is impressive: over 1 million photos, 60 million pages of documents, tens of thousands of audio and videotapes encompassing the life and work of the late president.
R. REAGAN: Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.
WILLIAMS: But even this great place can't evoke the full magnitude and spirit of Ronald Reagan's life like his partner.
N. REAGAN: I was very blessed to find him.
WILLIAMS: Mrs. Reagan has always said her life started when she met Ronald Wilson Reagan. And from that point onward, they tackled everything together.
RONALD WILSON REAGAN, PRESIDENT Of THE UNITED STATES: I, Ronald Reagan, do solemnly swear --
WILLIAMS: All along, Mrs. Reagan was his advisor and champion- in-chief. Their love for one another was an enduring image at the White House. That bond would sustain them through the unthinkable.
Though forever shaken, the work of the nation went on. Mrs. Reagan decided to dedicate herself to the Just Say No campaign.
N. REAGAN: If you're ever offered drugs, please, please, just say no.
WILLIAMS: It was with great dignity and grace that President Reagan announced in 1994 he'd been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
N. REAGAN: Each day brings another reminder of this very long good-bye.
WILLIAMS: Since saying farewell to her companion of over 50 years back in 2004, Mrs. Reagan has stayed active in public life, advocating for stem-cell research, and devoting herself to the celebration of her husband's life and his lasting legacy.
WILLIAMS: And so, Ladies and Gentlemen, Mrs. Nancy Reagan.
The questioning continues -- John Harris.
HARRIS: Governor Perry, you said you wrote the book "Fed Up" to start a conversation. Congratulations. It's certainly done that in recent weeks.
In the book, you call Social Security the best example of a program that "violently tossed aside any respect for states' rights." We understand your position that it's got funding problems now. I'd like you to explain your view that Social Security was wrong right from the beginning.
PERRY: Well, I think any of us that want to go back and change 70 years of what's been going on in this country is probably going to have a difficult time. And rather than spending a lot of time talking about what those folks were doing back in the '30s and the '40s, it's a nice intellectual conversation, but the fact is we have got to be focussed on how we're going to change this program.
And people who are on Social Security today, men and women who are receiving those benefits today, are individuals at my age that are in line pretty quick to get them, they don't need to worry about anything. But I think the Republican candidates are talking about ways to transition this program, and it is a monstrous lie.
It is a Ponzi scheme to tell our kids that are 25 or 30 years old today, you're paying into a program that's going to be there. Anybody that's for the status quo with Social Security today is involved with a monstrous lie to our kids, and it's not right.
HARRIS: OK. Thank you, sir.
Let me follow on that. You mentioned the phrase "Ponzi scheme."
Just this morning, your former political adviser, Karl Rove, said that type of language could be "toxic," as he put it, in a general election. Vice President Cheney gave an interview today to ABC News, when he said it's not a Ponzi scheme, "It's a program that a great many people depend on."
My understanding is you're standing by every word you've written in that book. Is that right?
PERRY: Yes, sir. You know, Karl has been over the top for a long time in some of his remarks. So I'm not responsible for Karl anymore. But the fact is --
HARRIS: Vice President Cheney though said it's not a Ponzi scheme. You say it is.
PERRY: Absolutely. If Vice President Cheney or anyone else says that the program that we have in place today, and young people who are paying into that, expect that program to be sound, and for them to receive benefits when they research retirement age, that is just a lie. And I don't care what anyone says. We know that, the American people know that, but more importantly, those 25-and-30-year-olds know that.
HARRIS: Governor, time. Thank you. Governor, time.
(APPLAUSE) HARRIS: Governor Romney, let's be blunt. Let's be blunt. Democrats are itching to use that kind of provocative language against Republicans, yet you acknowledge yourself that Social Security has funding problems.
How do you have a candid question about Social Security without scaring seniors?
ROMNEY: Well, the issue is not the funding of Social Security. We all agree and have for years that the funding program of Social Security is not working, and Congress has been raiding the dollars from Social Security to pay for annual government expenditures. That's wrong. The funding, however, is not the issue.
The issue in the book "Fed Up," Governor, is you say that by any measure, Social Security is a failure. You can't say that to tens of millions of Americans who live on Social Security and those who have lived on it.
The governor says look, states ought to be able to opt out of Social Security. Our nominee has to be someone who isn't committed to abolishing Social Security, but who is committed to saving Social Security.
We have always had, at the heart of our party, a recognition that we want to care for those in need, and our seniors have the need of Social Security. I will make sure that we keep the program and we make it financially secure. We save Social Security.
And under no circumstances would I ever say by any measure it's a failure. It is working for millions of Americans, and I'll keep it working for millions of Americans. And we've got to do that as a party.
HARRIS: Thank you, Governor.
Governor Perry, a 30-second rebuttal. Governor Romney said Vice President Cheney is right and you're wrong about Ponzi schemes.
PERRY: Well, here's -- again, we're not trying to pick fights here.
PERRY: We're about fixing things. You can either have reasons or you can have results. And the American people expect us to put results in place.
You cannot keep the status quo in place and not call it anything other than a Ponzi scheme. It is. That is what it is. Americans know that, and regardless of what anyone says, oh, it's not -- and that's provocative language -- maybe it's time to have some provocative language in this country and say things like, let's get America working again and do whatever it takes to make that happen. (APPLAUSE)
CAIN: John, I think the American people would like to hear a solution.
CAIN: Do you want to hear some more rhetoric or do you want to hear a solution?
I happen to believe that yes, Social Security, it needs fixing, not continuing to talk about it. I believe in the Chilean model, where you give a personal retirement account option so we can move this society from an entitlement society to an empowerment society.
Chile had a broken system the way we did. Thirty years ago, a worker was paying 28 cents on a dollar into a broken system. They finally awakened and put in a system where the younger workers could have a choice. A novel idea.
Give them a choice with an account with their name on it, and over time we would eliminate the current broken system that we have. That is a solution to the problem. Rather than continuing to talk about how broken it is, let's just fix it using the Chilean model.
HARRIS: Thank you.
Congressman Paul, we've been talking just now about Governor Perry's rhetoric, but let's talk about his record.
Just this morning, your campaign put out a statement accusing him of pushing for bailout money, supporting welfare for illegal immigrants, and trying to forcibly vaccinate 12-year-old girls against sexually transmitted diseases.
He's your home state governor. Is he less conservative than meets the eye?
PAUL: Much more so, yes.
Just take the HPV. Forcing 12-year-old girls to take an inoculation to prevent this sexually transmitted disease, this is not good medicine, I do not believe. I think it's social misfit.
It's not good social policy. And therefore, I think this is very bad to do this. But one of the worst parts about that was the way it was done.
You know, the governorship in Texas traditionally is supposed to be a weak governorship. I didn't even know they could pass laws by writing an executive order. He did it with an executive order, passed it.
The state was furious, and the legislature, overwhelmingly, probably 90 percent -- I don't know exactly -- overwhelmingly repealed this. But I think it's the way it was passed, which was so bad.
I think it's a bad piece of legislation. But I don't like the idea of executive orders. I, as president, will not use the executive order to write laws.
HARRIS: Time. Thank you, Congressman.
Governor Perry, we'll get to you.
But, Congresswoman Bachmann, this is an issue you have also talked about, HPV.
BACHMANN: Well, what I'm very concerned about is the issue of parental rights. I think when it comes to dealing with children, it's the parents who need to make that decision. It is wrong for government, whether it's state or federal government, to impose on parents what they must do to inoculate their children. This is very serious, and I think that it's very important, again, that parents have the right.
Educational reform is another area. That's where I cut my teeth in politics, was being involved in educational reform, because the problem you see is one of framing.
It's the idea, should the federal government control these areas, or should parents and localities control these areas? We have the best results when we have the private sector and when we have the family involved. We have the worst results when the federal government gets involved, and especially by dictate to impose something like an inoculation on an innocent 12-year-old girl.
I would certainly oppose that.
HARRIS: Thank you.
Governor Perry, we've had candidates talking about you. Let's hear from you.
PERRY: I kind of feel like the pinata here at the party, so...
PERRY: But here's the facts of that issue. There was an opt-out in that piece of -- it wasn't legislation. It was an executive order.
I hate cancer. We passed a $3 billion cancer initiative that same legislative session of which we're trying to find over the next 10 years cures to cancers. Cervical cancer is caused by HPV. We wanted to bring that to the attention of these thousands of -- of -- of -- tens of thousands of young people in our state. We allowed for an opt-out.
I don't know what's more strong for parental rights than having that opt-out. There's a long list of diseases that cost our state and cost our country. It was on that list.
Now, did we handle it right? Should we have talked to the legislature first before we did it? Probably so. But at the end of the day, I will always err on the side of saving lives.
HARRIS: Senator Santorum, one final note on this book, "Fed Up." Governor Perry says in his book that it was, quote, "unprincipled" for Republicans to vote in favor of creating the Department of Homeland Security. You were one of those Republicans who voted yes. Respond.
SANTORUM: We created the Department of Homeland Security because there was a complete mess in the internal -- in protecting our country. We had all sorts of agencies that had conflicting authority. We had no information sharing that was going on. This was right after 9/11. We saw the problems created as a result of 9/11. And we put together a plan to try to make sure that there was better coordination.
I want to get back to this Gardasil issue. You know, we have -- Governor Perry's out there and -- and claiming about state's rights and state's rights. How about parental rights being more important than state's rights? How about having, instead of an opt-out, an opt- in?
If you really cared, you could make the case, instead of forcing me, as a parent -- and I have seven children, too, the wide receivers here have -- have -- on the ends here have -- have -- have seven children each -- but I am offended that -- that the government would tell me -- and by an executive order, without even going through the process of letting the people have any kind of input. I would expect this from President Obama; I would not expect this from someone who's calling himself a conservative governor.
Governor Romney, you've been listening to this exchange. Who's got the better end of it?
ROMNEY: You know, I believe in parental rights and parental responsibility for our kids. My guess is that Governor Perry would like to do it a different way second time through. We've each get -- we've each taken a mulligan or two. And -- and my guess is that that's something you'd probably do a little differently the second time. He just said he'd rather do it through legislation second time through.
And I recognize he wanted very badly to provide better health care to his kids and to prevent the spread of cancer. I agree with -- with those who said he went about it in the wrong way, but I think his heart was in the right place.
Right now, we have people who on this stage care very deeply about this country. We love America. America is in crisis. We have some differences between us, but we agree that this president's got to go. This president is a nice guy. He doesn't have a clue how to get this country working again. And -- and...
(APPLAUSE) GINGRICH: Brian?
WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, 30 seconds. I have another line of questioning. Go ahead.
GINGRICH: Yeah, I just want to go back, frankly, to the homeland security question, because it's important for us to confront this. I helped develop the model for homeland security. It hasn't been executed well.
The fact is, we have enemies who want to use weapons against us that will lead to disasters on an enormous scale. And the original goal was to have a Homeland Security Department that could help us withstand up to three nuclear events in one morning.
And we need to understand, there are people out there who want to kill us. And if they have an ability to sneak in weapons of mass destruction, they're going to use them. We need to overhaul and reform the department, but we need some capacity to respond to massive events that could kill hundreds of thousands of Americans in one morning.
WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul, this same line. You want to demolish the TSA. What would exist in its place?
PAUL: With the airlines that are responsible for carrying their cargo and their passengers. I mean, why -- why should we assume that a bureaucracy can do better? And look at the monstrosity we have at the airports. These TSA agents are abusive. Sometimes they're accused of all kinds of sexual activities on the way they maul people at the airport. So the airlines could do that.
WILLIAMS: I'll give them your best at LAX tonight.
PAUL: The -- you know, I would -- I would think the airlines should treat passengers as well as a company that hauls money around, and they -- they protect their money. They have private guards. And -- and they could do it.
Just remember, 9/11 came about because there was too much government. Government was more or less in charge. They told the pilots they couldn't have guns, and they were told never to resist. They set up the stage for all this. So, no, private -- private markets do a good job in protecting -- much better than this bureaucracy called the TSA, let me tell you.
WILLIAMS: Well, let me ask you about something else. It's related in a way, has to do with Mother Nature. Before the broadcast, Senator Santorum's got flooding today in Pennsylvania, Governor Perry is just back from the wildfires, out east, a Category 1 laid waste to entire areas. There's standing water tonight in Paterson, New Jersey, many of the towns around where I live, eight days without power. We had people eating in outdoor and public parks because the supermarkets were closed down.
The question is, federal aid, something like FEMA, if you object to what its become, how it's run, your position is to -- is to remove it, take it away, abolish it. What happens in its absence?
PAUL: Well, what happened before 1979? We didn't have FEMA. And that -- FEMA just conditioned people to build where they shouldn't be building. We lose the market effect of that.
But, yeah, my position is, we should have never had it. There's a much better way of doing it. I mean, this whole idea that the federal government can deal with weather and anything in the world, just got to throw a government there -- FEMA's broke. They're $20 billion in debt.
But I'm not for saying tomorrow close it down. A lot of people pay the insurance. I work real hard to make it work, and I did that in my district, too.
But I'll tell you how we should do it. We're spending -- believe it or not, this blew my mind when I read this -- $20 billion a year for air conditioning in Afghanistan and Iraq in the tents over there and all the air conditioning. Cut that $20 billion out, bring in -- take $10 off the debt, and put $10 into FEMA or whoever else needs it, child health care or whatever. But I'll tell you what, if we did that and took the air conditioning out of the Green Zone, our troops would come home, and that would make me happy.
WILLIAMS: Mr. Cain, along these same lines, Majority Leader Eric Cantor has said that federal disaster aid -- this has been a big discussion of late -- shouldn't be given out unless there are kind of concurrent spending cuts to offset the cost. Do you join in on that?
CAIN: I believe that there's enough money to go around. And I believe that, yes, you can find the concurrent spending cuts in order to be able to do that. No, don't eliminate FEMA. Let's fix FEMA. Let's fix Homeland Security.
There's a responsible way for the federal government to do the things that it should do. Running organizations like the TSA, I would agree with Representative Paul, no. Having the federal government responsible for trying to micromanage Medicare, no, trying to micromanage education, no. The federal government is not good at micromanaging anything. This is why I believe in empowering the states to do more and limit what the federal government does with regard to those kinds of program.
WILLIAMS: Governor Huntsman, you know, the upside to this is, I guess, you could fly with your shoes on. The downside is, who does the job the next day?
HUNTSMAN: Let me just say, while this is an important discussion that we're having, we've spent about 15 minutes now on homeland security. The greatest gift we could give this country on the 10th year anniversary, Rick, is a Homeland Security Department that really works, that doesn't give people a sense when they walk through they're going to get shaken down, a department that doesn't make us all feel like there's a fortress security mentality that is not American. And I've got to say there's something wrong with that.
But I'm guessing there are a whole lot of people tuned in around this country who are saying, why are we spending all this time talking about the smaller issues? We've got 14 million people unemployed. We've g