January 23, 2012: MSNBC / NBC News / National Journal / Tampa Bay Times / Florida Council of 100 Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Tampa, Florida January 23, 2012

PARTICIPANTS:
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)

MODERATOR:
Brian Williams (NBC News)

WILLIAMS: As for topics, it’s a wide-open evening, so let’s begin.

First of all, since we last gathered, three of you on stage have enjoyed victories, an unprecedented moment in the modern era, three separate candidates, three separate victories. Congratulations to you. In all three contests, the voters made it clear to pollsters and elsewhere that electability was a crucial element to them, a crucial argument this year.

And so, speaker Gingrich, on electability to begin with, your rival, your opponent on this stage, Governor Romney, was out today calling you erratic, a failed leader, and warning that your nomination for this party could perhaps result in what he called an “October surprise a day.” So given the fact that he went after you today on this topic of electability, your response tonight, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, in 1980, when Ronald Reagan started the year about 30 points behind Jimmy Carter and when the Republican establishment described his economic ideas as “voodoo economics,” Reagan just cheerfully went out and won the debate, won the nomination, and won the general election carrying more states than Herbert Hoover carried — than Roosevelt carried against Herbert Hoover. I would suggest that a solid conservative who believes in economic growth through lower taxes and less regulation, who believes in an American energy program, who believes in a strong national defense, and who has the courage to stand up to the Washington establishment, may make the Washington establishment uncomfortable, but is also exactly the kind of bold, tough leader the American people want, they’re not sending somebody to Washington to manage the decay. They’re sending somebody to Washington to change it, and that requires somebody who’s prepared to be controversial when necessary.

WILLIAMS: And about your problems, your departure from the speakership in the ’90s, what’s the case you make to the American people and voters in Republican primary contests about how you’ve changed, Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, the case I make is that, when I was speaker, we had four consecutive balanced budgets, the only time in your lifetime, Brian, that we’ve had four consecutive balanced budgets. Most people think that’s good.

We were down to 4.2 percent unemployment; 11 million new jobs were created. Most people think that’s good. We reformed welfare. And two out of three people went to work or went to school. People think that’s good.

I left the speakership after the 1998 election because I took responsibility for the fact that our results weren’t as good as they should be. I think that’s what a leader should do. I took responsibility, and I didn’t want to stay around, as Nancy Pelosi has. I wanted to get out and do other things. I founded four small businesses. And I’m very comfortable that my four years as speaker, working with a Democratic president, achieved the kind of conservative values that most Republicans want to have in a president.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, for his part, the speaker said about you that were dancing on eggs during this campaign, a good salesman with a weak product. And even Chris Christie, one of the most popular politicians in this country, speaking on your behalf, said this weekend your challenge is “going to be how to connect with people.”

Same question to you about electability.

ROMNEY: Well, I think this is going to come down to a question of leadership. I think as you choose the president of the United States, you’re looking for a person who can lead this country in a very critical time, lead the free world, and the free world has to lead the entire world.

I think it’s about leadership, and the Speaker was given an opportunity to be the leader of our party in 1994. And at the end of four years, he had to resign in disgrace.

Now, in the 1970s, he came to Washington. I went to work in my first job in the 1970s at the bottom level of a consulting firm. In the 1990s, he had to resign in disgrace from this job as Speaker.

I had the opportunity to go off and run the Olympic winter games. In the 15 years after he left the speakership, the Speaker has been working as an influence peddler in Washington. And during those 15 years, I helped turn around the Olympics, helped begin a very successful turnaround in the state of Massachusetts.

The Speaker — when I was fighting against cap and trade, the Speaker was sitting down with Nancy Pelosi on a sofa encouraging it. When I was fighting to say that the Paul Ryan plan to solve Medicare was bold and right, he was saying that it was right wing social engineering.

So we have very different perspectives on leadership, and the kind of leadership that our conservative movement needs not just to get elected, but to get the country right.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I’m not going to spend the evening trying to chase Governor Romney’s misinformation. We’ll have a site at Newt.org by tomorrow morning. We’ll list everything — he just said at least four things that are false. I don’t want to waste the time on them. I think the American public deserve a discussion about how to beat Barack Obama, the American public deserves a discussion of what we would do about the economy. And I just think this is the worst kind of trivial politics.

I mean, he said at least four things that were false. We have an ad in which both John McCain and Mike Huckabee in 2007 and 2008 explain how much they think Governor Romney can’t tell the truth.

I just suggest people look at them. Don’t listen to me, don’t believe me. Just look at the ad with Mike Huckabee and Senator McCain and you will understand exactly what you just saw.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, to your electability, let’s talk about the southern base of the GOP. Among those who describe themselves as very conservative, only one in five have gone your way.

How is that going to bode well for the longer campaign?

ROMNEY: Had a great record, as you know, in New Hampshire. The New Hampshire voters overwhelmingly supported me. Actually, among Republicans in New Hampshire, I got the biggest support that we have seen among Republicans, even including Ronald Reagan, that far back. So I’m pleased I will be able to connect well with our Republican base.

But let’s go back to what the Speaker mentioned with regards to leadership, and that is — I mean, we don’t have to take my word for the facts. They’re accurate. I will point out that they are accurate. But the truth is that the members of his own team, his congressional team, after his four years of leadership, they moved to replace him. They also took a vote, and 88 percent of Republicans voted to reprimand the Speaker, and he did resign in disgrace after that.

This was the first time in American history that a Speaker of the House has resigned from the House. And so that was the judgment rendered by his own people as to his leadership.

Look, don’t forget at the end of the Speaker’s term as Speaker, his approval rating was down to 18 percent. We suffered historic losses after his four years in office.

And I’ll make this other point, which is we just learned today that his contract with Freddie Mac was provided by the lobbyists at Freddie Mac. I don’t think we can possibly retake the White House if the person who’s leading our party is the person who was working for the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac. Freddie Mac was paying Speaker Gingrich $1,600,000 at the same time Freddie Mac was costing the people of Florida millions upon millions of dollars.

WILLIAMS: Do you realize last week, Governor, you said that — you complained that too much of your time on stage lately has been spent on negativity vis-a-vis the other candidates? You pledged to spend your time going after the incumbent president, yet here we are again.

ROMNEY: I’ll tell you why, which is I learned something from that last contest in South Carolina, and that was I had incoming from all directions, was overwhelmed with a lot of attacks. And I’m not going to sit back and get attacked day in and day out without returning fire.

I would like not to have the kind of attacks that came against me. There were two ads run by Speaker Gingrich. Outside fact- checking groups said these ads were false, and yet they continue to run them, and one by his campaign, and one by a PAC, in his benefit. And I know he can’t control that, but those ads were pretty heavy on me. So I’m going to point out things I think people need to know.

It was Republicans who replaced him in the House, voted to reprimand him. And it was the head lobbyist of Freddie Mac with whom he had a contract at a time when Floridians were suffering as a result in part of Freddie Mac.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, 30 seconds before I move on.

GINGRICH: Now, wait a second. I mean, he just went on and on and on, making a whole series of allegations. First of all, he may have been a good financier; he’s a terrible historian.

The fact is, the vote on the Ethics Committee was in January of 1997. I asked the Republicans to vote yes because we had to get it behind us. The Democrats had filed 84 ethics charges for a simple reason: We had taken control of the House after 40 years, and they were very bitter.

And the fact is, on every single ethics charge of substance that was dismissed in the end, the only thing we did wrong is we had one lawyer written by letters — I mean, written one letter, and the one letter was in error. I didn’t pay a fine. I paid the cost of going through the process of determining it was wrong.

I left two years later, and, frankly, we were right to get it behind us because the tax cut that led to economic growth, the four balanced budgets all came after that vote. So you have all this stuff just jumbled up. Apparently your consultants aren’t very good historians. What you ought to do is stop and look at the facts.

And the fact is, we won the House for the third time in 1998, but the margin wasn’t big enough. So I am the only speaker up to that point since the 1920s who had led the Republican Party to three consecutive victories. By the way, in 2006 when you chaired the Governors Association, we lost governorships. And in the four years that you were governor, we lost seats in the Massachusetts legislature. So I think as a party builder, the 20 years I spent building the House Republican Party stands pretty good as an example of leadership.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, you have labeled this choice as being between an erratic and a moderate. You come in here tonight with one victory in Iowa. Where is your path to the top here?

SANTORUM: Well, I think if you’ve learned anything about this election, that any type of prediction is going to be wrong. The idea that this was a two-person race has been an idea that has been in fashion now for eight months, and it’s been wrong about eight times.

And so we’re looking at this race trying to paint a positive vision for our country. You ask my path to victory. My path to victory is to tell the people of Florida and tell the people of this country of someone who’s here that presents a very clear contrast with the president of the United States, someone that will make him the issue in this race, not the Republican candidate, someone who has a track record of being a strong conservative, someone who has a vision, a bold vision to reach out to the voters that I reached out and was successful in getting when I ran for the Senate in Pennsylvania twice, a state we haven’t won for the presidency since 1988. I won it twice, once in a year where George Bush lost the state by five and I won it by six.

How did I do it? I had plans out there that included everybody, plans like I have today, talking about manufacturing, talking about things that – – that are touchstones with the Reagan Democrats that provided that 49- state win.

We talked about faith. We talked about family. We talked about jobs. We talked about limited government. And that message was one that connected in a state — well, just like Florida, that’s one of those key states that we’re going to win. And that sets me apart, really, from anybody else on this stage as someone who’s been victorious with a strong, principled conservative message.

WILLIAMS: And yet, Senator, you are former Senator Santorum, having lost your home state by 18 points.

SANTORUM: Yeah, well, if I was the only guy that lost an election that year in Pennsylvania, that would be maybe a big statement, but our gubernatorial candidate lost by more than I did. We lost five congressional seats. And it was an historic loss in our statehouse. It was a meltdown year. We lost 23 out of 33 senators.

And probably unlike a lot of other candidates, when you’re running in an election year that you know you’re running against a headwind, a lot of folks crouch down, they get out of the way of the wind and try to sneak in. I stood tall, stood for what I believed in, talked about issues like the threat of Iran on the horizon, talked about the need to reform Social Security and Medicare, talked about the issues that, well, now we’re all talking about today, as I did at a time when nobody wanted to hear that message.

I also was running with a president who was sitting at about 35 percent favorable, and I was standing by him and trying to reform Social Security, and trying to fight the war and win the war in Iraq, and I stand by that.

And one of the things I figured out when I was running in that tough election year, there’s one thing worse than losing an election, and that’s not standing for the principles that you hold.

WILLIAMS:Congressman Paul, there is no denying you have an enthusiastic base support — base of support. We could hear them outside tonight. Yet there was that recent interview, you were asked if while campaigning you envision yourself in the Oval Office, and you said, “Not really, but I think it’s a possibility.”

So that begs the question about your path and when you will give an honest answer about perhaps your third-party plans going forward. Are you in this regardless of the outcome to your right here on this stage?

PAUL: Well, unlike others, maybe they sit around and daydream about being in the White House. I just don’t sit around daydreaming about it, but I’m in a race, I’m in a good race.

You talk about electability. Why don’t we take on the first three states and take everybody 30 years and under? I’m doing pretty darned well. I’m winning that vote.

But what about if you compare my name to Obama? I do quite well, if not better, than the rest.

So, to say that there has only been three races, and talk about not being electable, I think is a bit of a stretch. As a matter of fact, the delegates haven’t even been appointed in Iowa yet. I mean, quite frankly, we have a pretty good chance of getting a good sum of those because of the organization.

We only had a straw vote. I mean, this argument on who won, it was a straw vote. I mean, the delegates is what counts.

But I do want to address the earlier discussion that you had about 1997. I had been out of Congress for 12 years, and I went back in ’96 and arrived there in ’97. It was chaotic, let me tell you.

It was a mess, and it was a mess for 12 years. And Newt had a big job on his hands, but he really had to attack the conservatives. He did it boldly.

And quite frankly, I think the reason — he didn’t not run for Speaker, you know, two years later. He didn’t have the votes. That was what the problem was. So this idea that he voluntarily reneged and he was going to punish himself because we didn’t do well in the election, that’s just not the way it was.

WILLIAMS: Let me come at it this way. If Newt Gingrich emerges from the GOP primary process as the nominee of the party, do you go your own way?

PAUL: Well, I have done a lot of that in my lifetime.

WILLIAMS: I should be more specific. Will you run as a third- party candidate?

PAUL: I have no plans to do that, no intention. And when I have been pressed on it, and they asked me why, and I said, I don’t want to. But I haven’t been an absolutist. When I left Congress, I didn’t have plans on going back, but I did after 12 years. I went back to medicine. So, no, I don’t have any plans to do that. No.

WILLIAMS: Would you support a Newt Gingrich as nominee of the GOP?

PAUL: Well, he keeps hinting about attacking the Fed, and he talks about gold. Now if I could just change him on foreign policy, we might be able to talk business. [laughter]

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, are you willing to adjust to pick up an endorsement from Texas?

GINGRICH: Well, I got one on Friday from Governor Perry, which I liked a lot as a starting point. So I like endorsements from Texas.

And Congressman Paul is right. There’s an area — I think what he has said about the Federal Reserve and what he has said about the importance of monetary policy, the proposal I’ve issued for a gold commission, which hearkens back to something that he and Jesse Helms helped develop, on which he served on in 1981, and the fact that we have people of the caliber of Lew Lehrman and Jim Grant, who have agreed they would chair such a commission, I think they’re areas we can work on.

There are places we disagree very deeply. Iran is a good example. But there are places — you know, you build a coalition by trying to find ways you can work together, and frankly we could work together a lot more than either one of us could work with Barack Obama.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, a question you know is coming because of what you have set in motion for tomorrow when you release one year’s tax returns and your estimates for 2011. We know it’s not a matter of producing them. You said during the McCain vetting process you turned over 23 years which you had at the ready because, to quote you, you’re something of a packrat.

So, prior to tomorrow, can you tell us tonight what’s in there that’s going to get people talking? What’s in there that’s going to be controversial? What’s in there that you may find yourself defending?

ROMNEY: No surprises, Brian. The most extensive disclosure that I made was the financial disclosure requirements under the law. We each had to do that, and I laid out what my assets are and where they are, and people have been looking at that. It’s very similar to what it was four years ago. And so my income tax will show that that’s where the profits and rewards came.

The real question is not so much my taxes, but the taxes of the American people. The real question people are going to ask is, who’s going to help the American people at a time when folks are having real tough times?

And that’s why I put forward a plan to eliminate the tax on savings for middle income Americans. Anyone making under $200,000 a year, I would eliminate the tax on interest, dividends and capital gains. People need help to be able to save their money.

I’ll also bring the corporate tax rate down to 25 percent as quickly as possible and then begin a process of reshaping the entire tax code. It’s far too complex, it’s far too intrusive, it’s far too great.

ROMNEY: I would like to lower the rates, broaden the base, akin to what we saw in the Bowles-Simpson plan, which, by the way, the president commissioned and then simply brushed aside. We need to go back to that, get our rates down, and get a pro-growth tax policy in this country.

WILLIAMS: So, across this country tomorrow, when people learn the details of the tax return you release — and, of course, you’ll be under pressure to release more years after that — nothing will stick out, nothing will emerge that will be talked about by this time tomorrow night?

ROMNEY: Oh, I’m sure people will talk about it. I mean, you’ll see my income, how much taxes I’ve paid, how much I’ve paid to charity. You’ll see how complicated taxes can be. But — but I pay all the taxes that are legally required and not a dollar more.

I don’t think you want someone as the candidate for president who pays more taxes than he owes. So I’ll — I’ll point out that that’s the case.

And will there will discussion? Sure. Will it be an article? Yeah. But is it entirely legal and fair? Absolutely. I’m proud of the fact that I pay a lot of taxes.

And the fact is, there are a lot of people in this country that pay a lot of taxes. I’d like to see our tax rate come down and focus on growing the country, getting people back to work. That’s our problem in this country right now. We’ve got a lot of people out of work. Let’s let them start paying taxes because they got jobs again.

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, what will satisfy you?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, he said the other day when he indicated he was going to release it, that was the right thing to do. It’s actually a tradition his father started in 1967. I think it’s the right thing to do.

The biggest thing I think will be — and I think you indicated the other day that you pay something like a 15 percent marginal rate. My position is not to attack him for paying a 15 percent marginal rate. I have in my tax proposal an alternative flat tax on the Hong Kong model, where you get to choose what you want, and our rate’s 15 percent. So I’m prepared to describe my 15 percent flat tax as the Mitt Romney flat tax. I’d like to bring everybody else down to Mitt’s rate, not try to bring him up to some other rate. WILLIAMS: And — yes, Governor? [crosstalk]

ROMNEY: Mr. Speaker, is the tax on capital gains also 15 percent or is it zero?

GINGRICH: Zero.

ROMNEY: Well, under that — under that plan, I’d have paid no taxes in the last two years.

GINGRICH: Well, if that — and if you created enough jobs doing that — it was Alan Greenspan who first said the best rate, if you want to create jobs for capital gains, is zero. My number-one goal is to create a maximum number of jobs to put the American people back to work. It’s a straightforward argument.

WILLIAMS: And, Governor, how about your father’s model of 12 years’ worth of returns?

ROMNEY: You know, I agree with my dad on a lot of things, but we also disagree. And — and going out with 12 years of returns is not something I’m going to do. I’m putting out two years, which is more than anyone else on this stage. I think it’ll satisfy the interests of the American people to see that I pay my taxes, where I give my charitable contributions to, and I think that’s the right number.

WILLIAMS: More broadly, Governor, just an aside, have you been surprised at the degree to which your wealth has become an issue? You spoke rather forcefully in South Carolina over the weekend on Saturday night about this, about the degree to which you’ve had to defend, as you put it, your success in business.

ROMNEY: Yeah, I knew that was going to come from the Obama team. I understood that. We see that on the left. I was surprised to see people in the Republican Party pick up the weapons of the left and start using them to attack free enterprise. I think those weapons will be used against us. I think it’s very unfortunate.

I will not apologize for having been successful. I did not inherit what my wife and I have, nor did she. What we have — what — what I was able to build, I built the old-fashioned way, by earning it, by working hard. And I was proud of the fact that we helped create businesses that grew, that employed people.

And these are not just high-end financial jobs. We helped start Staples, for instance. It employs 90,000 people. These are middle- income people. There are entry-level jobs, too. I’m proud of the fact that we helped people around the country, Bright Horizons children centers, the Sports Authority, Steel Dynamics, a new steel company. These employ people, middle-income people.

And the nature of America is individuals pursuing their dreams don’t make everyone else poorer; they help make us all better off. And so I’m not going to apologize for success or apologize for free enterprise. I believe free enterprise is one of the things that — that we have to reinvigorate in this country if we want to get people working again.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, Governor Romney has said — and he said again tonight — he expected these attacks from the other side. He’s been taking fire as he would from the Democrats from the group on this stage. That means you. That includes you.

ROMNEY: I didn’t mean to include…

SANTORUM: No, I have — I have not. I have not fired at Governor Romney on — on — on his — his work at Bain Capital. In fact, I’ve been maybe unique in that regard that I haven’t.

I believe in capitalism. I believe in free markets. I believe Governor Romney can go out and — and earn whatever he can. And hopefully he creates jobs by earning that money and investing in companies.

My only question with Governor Romney is that, you know, to be a great defender of capitalism and talk about the importance of — of capitalism and free markets, and in the case of Bain, constructive capitalism and destructive capitalism.

My question to Governor Romney and to Speaker Gingrich, if you believe in capitalism that much, then why did you support the bailout of Wall Street, where you had an opportunity to allow destructive capitalism to work, to allow a failure of a — of a system that needed to fail because people did things that in capitalism pay — you pay a price?

And we should have allowed those financial institutions to go through the bankruptcy process, and we would have had resulted not what we are seeing here in Florida with this lengthy recession/depression of the housing market. You would have seen the effects of what Governor Romney advocated for and advocates today at Bain Capital, which is allowing companies that do not do their job, cannot be competitive, make mistakes, to fail and pay the price, instead of having government come in and prop them up.

WILLIAMS: And Speaker Gingrich, just tonight, two hours ago, in fact, you released your ’06 contract with Freddie Mac. We alluded to this earlier.

Your company was paid $25,000 a month, $300,000 for the year. But it didn’t provide a further explanation of services for Freddie Mac.

Why one year’s worth? Governor Romney today used the expression “work product.” He wants to see your work product, and the word “lobbying” has been thrown around, and you strongly disagree with that.

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, if you read the contract — and we can go back and check the other years. We had to work through the process of getting an approval because it was a confidentiality agreement.

But if you read the contract which we have posted, and the Center for Health Transformation had to get permission to post, it says very clearly supposed to do consulting work. The governor did consulting work for years. I have never suggested his consulting work was lobbying.

So let me start right there. There is no place in the contract that provides for lobbying. I have never done any lobbying.

Congressman J.C. Watts, who for seven years was the head of the Freddie Mac Watch Committee, said flatly he has never been approached by me. The fact is that Congressman Rick Lazio, who is chairman of the Housing Subcommittee, said he has never been approached by me. And the only report in the newspaper was “The New York Times” in July of 2008, which said I told the House Republicans they should vote no, not give Freddie Mac any money, because it needed to be reformed. So there’s no — [crosstalk]

WILLIAMS: So you never peddled influence, as he described tonight?

GINGRICH: What?

WILLIAMS: You never peddled influence, as Governor Romney accused you of tonight?

GINGRICH: You know, there is a point in the process where it gets unnecessarily personal and nasty. And that’s sad.

The fact is I have had a very long career of trying to represent the people of Georgia and, as Speaker, the people of the United States. I think it’s pretty clear to say that I have never, ever gone and done any lobbying.

In fact, we brought in an expert on lobbying law and trained all of our staff. And that expert is prepared to testify that he was brought in to say here is the bright line between what you can do as a citizen and what you do as a lobbyist. And we consistently, for 12 years, running four small businesses, stayed away from lobbying, precisely because I thought this kind of defamatory and factually false charge would be made.

ROMNEY: Well, Mr. Speaker, you were — on this stage, at a prior debate, you said you were paid $300,000 by Freddie Mac for an historian — as an historian. They don’t pay people $25,000 a month for six years as historians. That adds up to about $1.6 million.

They weren’t hiring you as an historian. And this contract proves that you were not an historian. You were a consultant.

GINGRICH: I was a consultant.

ROMNEY: It doesn’t say that you provided historical experience, it said that you were as a consultant. And you were hired by the chief lobbyist of Freddie Mac, not the CEO, not the head of public affairs. By the chief lobbyist at Freddie Mac.

You also spoke publicly in favor of these GSEs, these government- sponsored entities, at a very time when Freddie Mac was getting America in a position where we would have had a massive housing collapse. You could have spoken out aggressively. You could have spoken out in a way to say these guys are wrong, this needs to end. But instead, you were being paid by them. You were making over $1 million at the same time people in Florida were being hurt by millions of dollars.

GINGRICH: Well, this is a good example. As a businessman, you know that the gross revenue of Bain wasn’t your personal income.

We had a company. The company had three offices. The company was being paid. My share annually was about $35,000 a year. And the fact is I offered strategic advice, largely based on my knowledge of history, including the history of Washington.

Government-sponsored enterprises include, for example, telephone cooperatives, rural electric cooperatives, federal credit unions. There are many different kinds of government-sponsored enterprises, and many of them have done very good things. And in the early years, before some people, particularly Jim Johnson and other Democrats, began to change the model you could make a pretty good argument that in the early years, those housing institutions were responsible for a lot of people getting a lot of good housing.

ROMNEY: There’s no question about that, but we’re talking about one. We’re talking about Freddie Mac.

GINGRICH: Right.

ROMNEY: And that one did a lot of bad for a lot of people. And you were working there making over $1 million for your entities — [crosstalk]

GINGRICH: For the entities. As long as we agree, for the entities.

ROMNEY: Owned by you. I don’t know whether 100 percent owned by you, but I presume. Owned by you, over $1.6 million. And you said it was $300,000. It was $1.6 million. That’s a difference.

GINGRICH: So, Mitt, what — Mitt, what’s the gross revenue of Bain in the years you were associated with it? What’s the gross revenue?

ROMNEY: Very — very substantial. But I think it’s irrelevant compared to the fact…

GINGRICH: No.

ROMNEY: … that you were working for Freddie Mac.

GINGRICH: Wait a second. Wait a second. Very substantial.

ROMNEY: You were working for Freddie…[crosstalk]

GINGRICH: Did Bain ever do any work with any company which did any work with the government, like Medicare…

ROMNEY: We didn’t — we didn’t do — we didn’t…

GINGRICH: … Medicaid?

ROMNEY: We didn’t do any work with the government. I didn’t have an office on K Street. I wasn’t a lobbyist. I didn’t — had never worked — I’ve never worked in Washington. You were working…

GINGRICH: So — so…

ROMNEY: We have congressmen who also say that you came and lobbied them in favor…

GINGRICH: I didn’t lobby them.

ROMNEY: You have congressmen who say…[crosstalk]

ROMNEY: … that you came and lobbied them with regards to Medicare Part D, at the same time…

GINGRICH: Now, wait. Whoa, whoa.

ROMNEY: … your center was taking in contributions…

GINGRICH: You just jumped a long way over here, friend.

ROMNEY: Well, another — another area of influence-peddling.

GINGRICH: No, not — now, let me be very clear, because I understand your technique, which you used on McCain, you used on Huckabee, you’ve used consistently, OK? It’s unfortunate, and it’s not going to work very well, because the American people see through it.

I have always publicly favored a stronger Medicare program. I wrote a book in 2002 called “Saving Lives and Saving Money.” I publicly favored Medicare Part D for a practical reason, and that reason is simple. The U.S. government was not prepared to give people anything — insulin, for example — but they would pay for kidney dialysis. They weren’t prepared to give people Lipitor, but they’d pay for open-heart surgery. That is a terrible way to run Medicare.

I am proud of the fact — and I’ll say this in Florida — I’m proud of the fact that I publicly, openly advocated Medicare Part D. It has saved lives. It’s run on a free enterprise model. It also included health savings accounts and it include Medicare alternatives, which gave people choices.

And I did it publicly, and it is not correct, Mitt — I’m just saying this flatly, because you’ve been walking around this state saying things that are untrue — it is not correct to describe public citizenship, having public advocacy as lobbying. Every citizen has the right to do that.

ROMNEY: They sure do.

GINGRICH: And what I did on behalf of Medicare…

ROMNEY: They sure do.

GINGRICH: … I did out in the open, publicly, and that is my right as a citizen.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen…

ROMNEY: Here’s why it’s a problem, Mr. Speaker. Here’s why it’s a problem. And that is, if you’re getting paid by health companies, if your entities are getting paid by health companies that could benefit from a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you’d like. I call it influence-peddling.

It is not right. It is not right. You have a conflict. You are — you are being paid by companies at the same time you’re encouraging people to pass legislation which is in their favor.

WILLIAMS: Governor…

ROMNEY: This is — you spent now 15 years in Washington on K Street. And — and this is a real problem, if we’re going to nominate someone who not only had a record of — of great distress as the speaker, but that has worked for 15 years lobbying.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, we’ve let this go because of the state of the race, and a certain amount of this conversation, I guess, had to happen. We — this also has to happen. We have to go to a break. We’ll come back. We’ll talk about foreclosure. We’ll talk about foreign policy. We’ll welcome in the other two gentlemen to this conversation when we continue from Tampa. [applause]

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: Welcome back to what has already become an interesting night in Tampa, Florida. Gentlemen, welcome back to you.

And, Senator Santorum, let’s begin this segment with you. Since we’ve been nibbling around the edges of the foreclosure crisis, since, what, 40 percent of homeowners in this state are underwater, 53 percent of the homes in Tampa, Florida, are worth less today than before this crisis. Was it too easy? Did vehicles of the U.S. government make it too easy to own a home in America?

SANTORUM: Well, the answer, unfortunately, is yes to that. And there were several of us in the United States Senate back in 2005 and 2006 who saw this on the horizon, who saw the problem with Freddie and Fannie, and tried to move forth with a bill — I was on the Banking Committee. We voted a bill out of committee to try to solve this problem, to constrain Fannie and Freddie, and there were a lot of people out there fighting that, including Harry Reid and his minions on the other side of the aisle.

I sent — I signed a letter, along with 24 other senators, that said, we either do something now, stop the filibuster of this bill, Harry Reid, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, all of whom were in the Senate at the time. They were filibustering this bill to allow reform of Fannie and Freddie. And we said, if this doesn’t happen, if we don’t constrain these two behemoths from continuing to underwrite this subprime mortgage problem, then we’re going to have a collapse. Unfortunately, that proved — proved to be true.

The problem now is, what are you going to do about it? And what I’ve said is that, as you heard me say before, let capitalism work. Allow these — allow these banks to — to realize their losses. And create an opportunity for folks who have houses to realize their losses and at least help them out.

That’s why I proposed in my tax plan — and I talk about five areas where I allow deductions — well, one of them would be, be able to deduct losses from the sale of your home. Right now, you can’t do that. You have to pay gains, depending on the amount, but you can’t deduct the losses.

This is something I think is important temporarily to put in place to allow people the freedom to be able to go out and get out from underneath these houses that they’re holding onto and at least get some relief from the federal government for doing so.

WILLIAMS: Congressman Paul, should that be any role for the government? Are those folks owed anything for being under?

PAUL: Well, the government owes them a free market and a sound monetary system, but they didn’t give it to them. They gave them a mess. They gave them a financial system that literally created this problem.

And it was compounded — first, the line of credit to the — to the Federal Reserve, it was excessive. Everybody now admits in Washington interest rates were kept too low, too long.

But not only that, in addition to that, it was an insult to injury, because they kept interest rates especially low with Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, and there was a line of credit there, and it was a guarantee. As a matter of fact, I had introduced legislation 10 years before the bubble burst to eliminate that line of credit. But then the Community Reinvestment Act added more fuel to it, you know, forcing banks to make loans that are risky loans.

So the whole bubble was easily seen. The consequences were anticipated. It was all government manufactured. But the question is, is what do you do after you come upon a mess that the government and the politicians created?

The best thing you can do is get out of the way, because you want the prices to come down so that people will start buying them again, but politicians can’t allow that to happen. Our policies in Washington still has been to try to stimulate houses and keep — keep prices up.

But this whole thing about how we get involved in this low interest rate to stimulate the economy, almost everybody in Washington now in almost all spectrums of the economic sphere do not believe in wage and price controls, but they believe in controlling interest rates. That’s one-half of the whole economy, and here we have a bunch of guys getting in a room in secret, deciding what interest rates should be, and they create this mess. So, yes, we need to get out of the way, but instead the debt has to be liquidated.

The mortgage derivatives was a monster. A lot of people made a lot of money on that. But guess what? The Federal Reserve, to the tune of trillions and trillions of dollars, as well as TARP funds, were used to bail out the people that made all this money.

Guess what happened to the bad debt? It should have been wiped off the book. They should have gone bankrupt. It was dumped on the taxpayers, and the taxpayers still have it. And as long as you maintain that debt on the books, you’re not going to have growth.

This is why Japan hasn’t recovered. We’re in four years now, and it’s going to continue until we understand who creates the business cycle, how it happens, and what you have to do to get out of it.

WILLIAMS: Gentlemen, 30 seconds, please, on this, starting with Governor Romney.

To help these homeowners or not?

ROMNEY: To help them? Of course we help them.

Pam Mati here in Florida is cracking down on people who are committing fraud, number one. Number two, you have to get government out of the mess. Government has created the mess.

Number three, you’re going to have to help people see if they can’t get more flexibility from their banks. Right now, with Dodd- Frank, we made it harder for banks to renegotiate mortgages to help people get out.

And finally, you’ve got to get the economy going again with people having jobs. With Florida with 9.9 percent unemployment, and with 18 percent real unemployment in this state, and underemployment, you’re not going to get housing recovered unless you get jobs created again.

WILLIAMS: Speaker?

GINGRICH: Well, I think, first of all, if you could repeal Dodd- Frank tomorrow morning, you would see the economy start to improve overnight. I mean, people don’t realize this bill is — a little bit of what Congressman Paul said.

The fact is Dodd-Frank has led the biggest banks to get bigger. It is crushing independent banks. It has an anti-housing bias. Federal regulators are slowing down and making it harder to make loans for housing, and it is crippling small business borrowing.

All those things are a function of a bill passed by the Democrats called Dodd-Frank. If they would repeal it tomorrow morning, you would have a better housing market the next day.

WILLIAMS: Do you really think the financial system is overregulated? That’s the second mention of Dodd-Frank tonight.

GINGRICH: I really think that when — yes, of course it’s overregulated. When you put that much power in the Treasury under Geithner, you know, it’s an invitation to corruption.

When you have a bias in the bill which makes the big banks get bigger, exactly the opposite of what a rational policy would be, it’s a bad bill. When you have regulators walk in small local banks and say, do not loan money on housing, it’s a bad idea.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, was it overregulated prior to the collapse?

ROMNEY: It was poorly regulated. Markets have to have regulation to work. You can’t have everybody open a bank in their garage. You have to have regulation, but it’s got to be up to date.

And they didn’t have capital requirements put in place for the different classes of assets banks had. They also didn’t have regulation properly put in place for mortgage lenders. Derivatives weren’t being regulated.

You need to have regulation that’s up to date. They had old regulation, burdensome. Then they passed Dodd-Frank, which the Speaker is absolutely right. It has made it almost impossible for community banks.

I was with the head of one of the big banks in New York. He said they have hundreds of lawyers working on Dodd-Frank to implement it.

Community banks don’t have hundreds of lawyers. It’s just killing the residential home market and it’s got to be replaced.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, let me ask you this. There was a lot of talk in the last presidential campaign about that 3:00 a.m. phone call. Let’s say President Romney gets that phone call, and it is to say that Fidel Castro has died. And there are credible people in the Pentagon who predict upwards of half a million Cubans may take that as a cue to come to the United States.

What do you do?

ROMNEY: Well, first of all, you thank heavens that Fidel Castro has returned to his maker and will be sent to another land. [applause]

Now, number two, you work very aggressively with the new leadership in Cuba to try and move them towards a more open degree than they have had in the past.

We just had, with Wilman Villar, his life was just lost in a hunger strike fighting for democracy. This president has taken a very dangerous course with regards to Cuba saying we’re going to relax relations, we’re going to open up travel to Cuba.

This is the wrong time for that, with this kind of heroics going on. We want to stand with the people of Cuba that want freedom. We want to move that effort forward not by giving in and saying we lost, but by saying we will fight for democracy.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, as a practical matter, along the Florida coast, though, you know the policy, so called wet foot/dry foot. What do you do if folks start arriving in the United States?

GINGRICH: Well, Brian, first of all, I guess the only thing I would suggest is I don’t think that Fidel is going to meet his maker. I think he’s going to go to the other place.

Second, I would suggest to you the policy of the United States should be aggressively to overthrow the regime and to do everything we can to support those Cubans who want freedom. You know, Obama is very infatuated with an Arab Spring. He doesn’t seem to be able to look 90 miles south of the United States to have a Cuban Spring.

So I would try to put in place a very aggressive policy of reaching out to every single Cuban who would like to be free, helping network them together, reaching out to the younger generation inside the dictatorship, and indicating they don’t have a future as a dictatorship because a Gingrich presidency will not tolerate four more years of this dictatorship.

WILLIAMS: Overt and covert, are you talking about engaging the U.S. military?

GINGRICH: No, I’m talking about using every asset available to the United States, including appropriate covert operations, to maximize the distance, what Ronald Reagan, Pope John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher did to the Soviet empire, bring together every asset we have to minimize the survival of the dictatorship and to maximize the chance for freedom in Cuba.

WILLIAMS: Congressman?

PAUL: I — I have a little bit of work to do yet on him on foreign policy. [laughter] [applause]

No, I would do pretty much the opposite. I don’t like the isolationism of not talking to people. I was drafted in 1962 at the height of the Cold War when the missiles were in Cuba. And the Cold War’s over.

And I think we propped up Castro for 40-some years because we put on these sanctions, and this — only used us as a scapegoat. He could always say, anything wrong, it’s the United States’ fault.

But I think it’s time — time to quit this isolation business of not talking to people. We talked to the Soviets. We talk to the Chinese. And we opened up trade, and we’re not killing each other now. We fought with the Vietnamese for a long time. We finally gave up, started talking to them, now we trade with them. I don’t know why — why the Cuban people should be so intimidating.

I — I don’t know where you get this assumption that all of a sudden all the Cubans would come up here. I would probably think they were going to celebrate and they’re going to have a lot more freedom if we would only open up our doors and say, we want to talk to you, and trade with you, and come visit. Sometimes they can’t even send packages down there.

I — I think we’re living in the dark ages when we can’t even talk to the Cuban people. I think it’s not 1962 anymore. And we don’t have to use force and intimidation and overthrow of a — in governments. I just don’t think that’s going to work.

WILLIAMS: Senator Santorum, an admittedly…[applause]…cynical question. If there was a strong lobby of Chinese dissidents living in a state as politically important of — as Florida, do you think we’d have a trade policy with China that looks more like the trade policy with Cuba?

SANTORUM: Not if they were not 90 miles off our shore. This is an important doctrine of the United States to make sure that our hemisphere and those who are close to us are — are folks that we can and should deal with.

And right now, we have and have had for 50 years a dictatorship in Cuba. We’ve had sanctions on them. They should continue. They should continue until the Castros are dead, and then we should make it very clear that if you want mountains of aid, if you want normal relationships, if you want to improve your economy, if you want to have the opportunity for freedom, that the United States stands ready now to embrace you now that you’ve gotten rid of these tyrants who — who have controlled you for these 50-plus years. That’s why the sanctions have to stay in place, because we need to have a — a very solid offer to come forward and help the Cuban people.

And you’re right, Ron. It’s not 1962. They’re now with the Cubans and the Venezuelans, the Nicaraguans. There is a growing network of folks now working with the jihadists, the Iranians, who are very, very excited about the opportunity to having platforms 90 miles off our coast, just like the Soviets were, very anxious to have platforms 90 miles off our coast, or in Venezuela, or in Nicaragua, and other places they could come across the southern border.

This is a serious threat. It’s a threat that I’ve been talking about for about six or seven years. And it’s one that’s not going to go away until we — we confront the threat and hopefully are able to convince the Cuban people that, through what Newt and others have suggested, to — to change their government at the appropriate time. WILLIAMS: Governor — Governor Romney, last night, the Abe Lincoln, U.S. aircraft carrier and a couple other attendant U.S. Navy vessels passed through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. If Iran was able to fulfill, carry out that threat to shut down the strait, would you consider that an act of war? What would you do about it as president?

ROMNEY: Of — of course it’s an act of war. It is appropriate and — and essential for our military, for our Navy to — to maintain open seas. We have control of the commons, of space, air, and the seas. Our Navy has the capacity to do that — or did in the past.

Under this president and under prior presidents, we keep on shrinking our Navy. Our Navy is now smaller than any time since 1917. And — and — and the president is building roughly nine ships a year. We ought to raise that to 15 ships a year, not because we want to go to war with anyone, but because we don’t want anyone to take the — the — the hazard of going against us. We want them to see that we’re so strong they couldn’t possibly defeat us.

So we ought to have an aircraft carrier in the gulf, an aircraft carrier, and, of course, the task force with it in the Mediterranean. We want to show Iran, any action of that nature will be considered an act of war, an act of terror and — and America is going to be keep those sea lanes open.

WILLIAMS: So, Speaker Gingrich if you accept that bedrock definition that it is an act of war, how do you gauge the appetite on the part of the American people after the better part of a decade of warfare, fighting dual wars overseas for something like that?

GINGRICH: The American people have no interest in going to war anywhere. We had no interest in going to war with the Japanese when they bombed Pearl Harbor. We had no interest in going to Afghanistan when Jihadist’s destroyed the World Trade Center. The fact is, we’ve historically been a country that would like peace, we’d like stability. But we also have a historic commitment to — to freedom of the sea. And I would say that the most dangerous thing, which by the way, Barack Obama just did, the — the Iranians are practicing closing the Straits of Hormuz, actively taunting us, so he cancels a military exercise with the Israelis so as not to be provocative?

Now, dictatorships respond to strength, they don’t respond to weakness and I think there’s a very grave danger that the Iranians think that in fact this president is so weak, they could close the Straits of Hormuz and not suffer substantial consequences.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, how do you end a war in Afghanistan without talking to the Taliban?

ROMNEY: By beating them. By standing behind our troops and making sure that — that we have transitioned to the Afghan military, a capacity for them to be successful in holding off the Taliban. Our — our mission there, is to be able to turn Afghanistan and it’s sovereignty over to a military of Afghan descent — Afghan people that can defend their sovereignty. And that is something which we can accomplish in the next couple of years.

This president, however, has done — made — made it very difficult for our troops to be able to be successful in that mission by, number one, announcing a withdrawal date for our troops, number two drawing down our surge troops faster than the time the commanders on the ground was necessary. You don’t draw them down during the middle of the fighting season. And finally, by not overseeing elections in Afghanistan to assure that the — the selection of their president was seen by the people as being legitimate. And he has failed in — in executing a policy in Afghanistan that would optimize our prospects of success. [crosstalk]

WILLIAMS: Go ahead. I was just going to ask, any appetite on this stage to negotiate with the Taliban? Congressman?

PAUL: No, but I wanted to get involved in the discussion.

WILLIAMS: No, go ahead?

PAUL: Because the question was, you know, would you go to war? And Mitt said he would — he would go to war. But you have to think about the preliminary act that might cause them to want to close the Straits of Hormuz, and that’s the blockade. We’re blockading them. Can you imagine what we would do if somebody blockaded the Gulf of Mexico? That would be an act of war. So the act of war has already been committed and this is a retaliation.

But besides, there’s no interest whatsoever for Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz. I mean they need it as much as we do. I mean so you have to put that into perspective. But this whole idea that — that it’s – – we — we have to go to war because we’ve already committed an act by blockading the country and I — I don’t see — I — I — and — and I think Newt is right. I think he’s wrong about World War II, I think the people were ready because we did it properly. We declared it and we won it quickly.

But, not the people are not ready. We don’t have any money. We have too many wars. We — the people want to come home and they certainly don’t want a hot war in Iran right now and I — I think that would be the most foolish thing in the world to do right now is take on Iran.

WILLIAMS: Right now for us another break. I’ll welcome two colleagues out here to the stage when we continue from Tampa right after this.

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: And welcome back to Tampa.

I am happy to welcome two fellow journalists to this stage. Happy to be joined now by our partners in this debate. In fact, “The Tampa Bay Times” and “National Journal.”

Adam Smith is the longtime political editor at “The Tampa Bay Times,” covering national, state and local politics for more than a decade, one of the very best in the trade. And besides, a lot of people just thought a GOP debate should have Adam Smith present.

Beth Reinhard is a political correspondent for “National Journal.” She is a Florida native, was a veteran political reporter at “The Miami Herald” for 11 years.

But one piece of business, Senator Santorum, I had to go to a break. I didn’t get you in on what we’ll call the Iran round, because you’ve talked about this a lot. Specifically, as a last resort, as you said, taking out Iran’s nuclear program.

The problem with that, so many in the military tell you, is the target list. Where do you limit it — the air strikes that some estimate would begin at 30 to 60 days sustained, taking out air defenses, all of that familiar language the American people have just been through for a decade?

SANTORUM: Well, the contrast for that is, what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon and the entire world changes? Iran is not just another country, or a little, small country, as President Obama said classically during the campaign. Obama’s Iran policy has been a colossal failure.

It’s been a failure because he’s not been true to the American public about the threat that Iran poses to the world. Not just to Israel, but to the world and to the United States.

The bottom line is the theocracy that runs Iran is the equivalent of having al Qaeda in charge of a country with huge oil reserves, gas reserves, and a nuclear weapon. That is something that no president could possibly allow to have happen under any circumstances.

And when you asked the question, Brian, are we at — is this is an act of war? Well, let’s look at the acts of war that Iran — they are — they are holding hostages, they are attacking our troops, their IEDs, the improvised explosive devices, that are killing our troops in Afghanistan, and killed them in Iraq, and maimed so many were produced, and people were trained and funded in Iran specifically to kill American troops.

You look at the ships that have been attacked by Iran, embassies were attacked by Iran. A — Iran has plotted to kill the Saudi ambassador here in this country. It is a long list of attacks of — of warlike behavior on the part of this regime. And to believe that if they have a nuclear weapon they’re somehow going to become into the community of nations is a reckless act on the part of a president. It would be reckless not to do something to stop them from getting this nuclear weapon.

WILLIAMS: Senator, thank you. And to interests of local state politics, Beth Reinhard will take over the questioning.

REINHARD: Senator Santorum, here in Florida, BP is still airing apologetic appeals on television, but there are proposals to expand offshore oil drilling. The state’s most optimistic estimates say more drilling would create 5,000 jobs, but an oil spill would threaten Florida’s tourism industry, which employs nearly 1 million people. Is that worth the risk?

SANTORUM: What threatens the tourist industry in Florida, as we’ve seen, is a very bad economy, and a very bad economy that became a bad economy why? Because of a huge spike in oil prices in the summer of 2008. So energy is absolutely key to keep all of our country healthy, specifically Florida, which is a destination place. This is a — this is a place that relies upon people being able to travel and afford to be able to travel to come down here, relies upon an economy being strong.

I was at a manufacturer in Sarasota County today and was talking about them as a manufacturer and that, you know, the — the importance of manufacturing jobs, yes, even here in the state of Florida, and the price of energy for them to be able to be competitive.

It is absolutely essential that we have as much domestic supply of oil, that we build the Keystone pipeline, that we create the jobs that — that that would create, and provide oil from domestic sources. Pipelines that run on the floor of the sea or pipelines that come through America are the safest way to transport oil. It is tankers that are causing — that cause much more problems. Pipelines are the safe way. Building those rigs, piping that oil into — into — into our shore is the best way to create a good economy for the state of Florida.

REINHARD: All of you favor making English the official language of the United States, which could mean that ballots and other government documents would not be available in Spanish. But, Speaker Gingrich, you’re sending out press releases in Spanish; Governor Romney, you’re advertising in Spanish. Why is it OK for you to court voters in Spanish, but not OK for the government to serve them in Spanish?

Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, you immediately jump down to a very important language, but not the only language. The challenge of the United States is simple. There are 86 languages in Miami Dade College, 86. There are over 200 languages spoken in Chicago.

Now, how do you unify the country? What — what is the common bond that enables people to be both citizens and to rise commercially and have a better life and a greater opportunity?

I think campaigning, historically, you’ve always been willing to go to people on their terms in their culture, whether it’s Greek Independence Day or something you did for the Irish on St. Patrick’s Day. And I’m perfectly happy to be on Radio Mambi, and I’m perfectly happy to have a lot of support in the Hispanic community.

But as a country to unify ourselves in a future in which there may well be 300 or 400 languages spoken in the United States, I think it is essential to have a central language that we expect people to learn and to be able to communicate with each other in.

REINHARD: So to be clear, you would only have ballots in English?

GINGRICH: I would have ballots in English. And I think you could have programs where virtually everybody would be able to read the ballots.

REINHARD: Governor Romney, can you take that question?

ROMNEY: I think Speaker Gingrich is right with regards to what he’s described. I’d note that in my state we had a tradition of teaching people in the language of their birth, and so we had in our school systems people being taught in a whole range of languages. And we had to have teachers that could teach in Cambodian, in Vietnamese, and other languages. And our kids were being taught in foreign languages in our own schools. And we found at the end of their education experience they couldn’t all speak English well. It made absolutely no sense.

And so we campaigned for English immersion in our schools and said kids coming in will have a transition period. Then we’re going to teach them in English.

ROMNEY: Look, English is the language of this nation. People need to learn English to be able to be successful, to get great jobs. We don’t want to have people limited in their capacity to achieve the American dream because they don’t speak English. And so encouraging people through every means possible to learn the language of America is a good idea.

Recognize at the same time we want people coming here from other cultures that speak other languages. That strengthens America. It’s a great thing. But having them learn English is also a great thing for them and for their kids.

REINHARD: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Yes, my answer is similar, but a little bit different, because at the national level, obviously we have to have one language. I mean, we can’t have multiple languages. So, for legal reasons, we would have one language.

But our system really gives us a way to be more generous, because if Florida wanted to have some ballots in Spanish, I certainly wouldn’t support a federal law that would prohibit Florida from accommodating a city election or a local election or a state election. I think that’s the magnificence of our system, where you can solve some of these problems without dictating one answer for all states. But nationally, we should have one language.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, I want to move on to a slightly different topic, the Dream Act, which, as you know, would provide a pathway to citizenship for children who have been brought to the U.S. illegally if they attend college or enroll in the military.

Now, Governor Romney and Senator Santorum have both said they would veto this legislation. Would you do the same?

GINGRICH: No. I would work to get a signable version which would be the military component. I think any young person living in the United States who happened to have been brought here by their parents when they were young should have the same opportunity to join the American military and earn citizenship which they would have had from back home.

We have a clear provision that if you live in a foreign country, and you are prepared to join the American military, you can, in fact, earn the right to citizenship by serving the United States and taking real risk on behalf of the United States. That part of the Dream Act I would support. I would not support the part that simply says everybody who goes to college is automatically waived for having broken the law.

WILLIAMS: The questioning continues.

ROMNEY: I just doubt that’s the same position that I have, and that is that I would not sign the Dream Act as it currently exists, but I would sign the Dream Act if it were focused on military service.

WILLIAMS: Thank you, Governor.

Questioning continues with Adam Smith.

SMITH: Let’s stay on immigration for a second.

Governor Romney, there is one thing I’m confused about. You say you don’t want to go and round up people and deport them, but you also say that they would have to go back to their home countries and then apply for citizenship. So, if you don’t deport them, how do you send them home?

ROMNEY: Well, the answer is self-deportation, which is people decide they can do better by going home because they can’t find work here because they don’t have legal documentation to allow them to work here. And so we’re not going to round people up.

The way that we have in this society is to say, look, people who have come here legally would, under my plan, be given a transition period and the opportunity during that transition period to work here, but when that transition period was over, they would no longer have the documentation to allow them to work in this country. At that point, they can decide whether to remain or whether to return home and to apply for legal residency in the United States, get in line with everybody else. And I know people think but that’s not fair to those that have come here illegally.

SMITH: Isn’t that what we have now? If somebody doesn’t feel they have the opportunity in America, they can go back any time they want to.

ROMNEY: Yes, we’d have a card that indicates who’s here illegally. And if people are not able to have a card, and have through an E-Verify system determine that they are here illegally, then they’re going to find they can’t get work here. And if people don’t get work here, they’re going to self-deport to a place where they can get work.

Ultimately, with this transition period in place, we would then allow people to get in line at home and to come back to this country after they have reached the front of the line. But I just don’t think it’s fair to the people who have loved ones waiting in line legally to come to America and say, guess what? We’re going to encourage a wave of illegal immigration by giving amnesty of some kind to those who have come here illegally.

SMITH: Senator Santorum, is self-deportation. Is that a valid concept?

SANTORUM: Well, it’s happening now. I mean, people are going back now because they can’t find jobs because of the lack of employment opportunities.

The bottom line is, is that if you do enforce the law and say that people who are here illegally, who are doing illegal acts — and that is working, which you’re not allowed to do — and if you’re working, probably you’ve stolen someone’s Social Security number, which you are not allowed to do — and that’s another law that is broken — that we should enforce the law. It’s not someone who has come here illegally in the first place and they’ve only broken the law once. They continually break the law in this country, and I don’t think that’s not something that should be rewarded.

My father came to this country, my grandfather came to this country. He left my dad behind for five years. My dad was without a dad for almost the first five years of his life.

And there are millions of stories across America of people making sacrifices because America was worth it to do it the right way. You come to this country and the first thing you do is to respect our laws. If you want to be an American, you respect the laws of America, and you do so continually while you’re here.

We reward that kind of behavior. We don’t reward behavior where you don’t respect our laws in your initial act and then you continually break the laws in order to stay here.

SMITH: Speaker Gingrich, in Iowa you were a big supporter of ethanol subsidies. Here in Florida, sugar is a very important industry, and it’s subsidized, as well, with import restrictions, quotas. There’s a conservative movement to do away with these programs. In the case of sugar, critics say it — it adds billions of dollars to — to consumers’ grocery bills every year. What would you do about that?

GINGRICH: Well, I pretty enthusiastically early in my career kept trying to figure out how to get away from the sugar subsidy. And I found out one of — one of the fascinating things about America, which was that cane sugar hides behind beet sugar. And there are just too many beet sugar districts in the United States. It’s an amazing side story about how interest groups operate.

In an ideal world, you would have an open market. And that’s — I think that would be a better future and, frankly, one where cane sugar would still make a lot of money. But it’s very hard to imagine how you’re going to get there. I spent a lot of time trying to reform agriculture when I was speaker. And I would say it was one of the two or three hardest things to try to do because the — the capacity of the agricultural groups to defend themselves is pretty amazing.

SMITH: Governor Romney, you’re going some campaign support from sugar growers. It’s a very influential group in this state. What’s your view on the sugar subsidies?

ROMNEY: Yeah, my view is, we ought to get rid of subsidies and let markets work properly. But let’s step back for a second, talk about what’s really going on in Florida right now. And you know, you both know what’s going on here.

I spent time this morning with — with eight different individuals, listening to them talk about their circumstances. There are a lot of people in Florida that are hurting. You got a lot of homes underwater. This president came into office saying he’d turn this economy around, and everything he has done has made it harder for the people of Florida.

We have 25 million Americans out of work. We have, in Florida, 9.9 percent unemployed. We have 18 percent of our people in this state that are underemployed. Home values, 40 percent are underwater.

This president has failed miserably the people of Florida. His plans for NASA, he has no plans for NASA. The space coast is — is struggling. This president has failed the people of Florida. We have to have a president who understands how to get an economy going again. He does not. He plays 90 rounds of golf when you have 25 million people out of work. He says gasoline prices doubled during his presidency. He says don’t build a Keystone pipeline.

We have $15 trillion of debt. We’re headed to a — to a Greece- type collapse, and he adds another trillion on top for Obamacare and for his stimulus plan that didn’t create private-sector jobs. This president has failed. And this economy needs a president who understands this economy.

SMITH: Congressman Paul, Florida’s Everglades provide one in three Floridians with their drinking water. It affects thousands of jobs. Right now, there’s a — there’s a joint federal-state program to save what’s left of the Everglades. Would you commit to continuing that federal financing of the Everglades preservation?

PAUL: Sure. I — I don’t see any reason to go after that. I would still look into the details on whether that could be a state issue or not.

But with all the wars going on, and the economy is in shambles, as it is, and the unemployment, to — to worry about dealing with that program, we could do it in a theoretical sense. But I would see no reason to, you know, complicate things. But I wouldn’t have any desire to interfere with that.

WILLIAMS: At this point, we’ll take another break. We’ll return from Tampa with this line of questioning right after this. [applause]

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: We are back from Tampa tonight. As the conversation continues, once again the questioning continues.

Adam Smith of “The Tampa Bay Times.”

SMITH: Thank you.

Senator Santorum, in 2005, Florida was in the middle of a huge national debate over Terri Schiavo, whether her feeding tube should be removed after the courts had ruled that she had been in a vegetative state for years. You were at the center, at the front of advocating congressional intervention to keep her alive. You even came down here, came to her bedside after a fund-raiser.

Why should the government have more say in medical decisions like that than a spouse?

SANTORUM: Well, number one, I didn’t come to her bedside, but I did come down to Tampa. I was scheduled to come down anyway for that event, and it so happened that this situation was going on.

I did not call for congressional intervention. I called for a judicial hearing by an impartial judge at the federal level to review a case in which you had parents and a spouse on different sides of the issue.

And these were constituents of mine. The parents happen to live in Pennsylvania, and they came to me and made a very strong case that they would like to see some other pair of eyes, judicial eyes, look at it. And I agreed to advocate for those constituents because I believe that we should give respect and dignity for all human life, irrespective of their condition.

And if there was someone there that wanted to provide and take care of them, and they were willing to do so, I wanted to make sure that the judicial proceedings worked properly. And that’s what I did, and I would do it again. [applause]

SMITH: Do not resuscitate directives, do you think they’re immoral?

SANTORUM: No, I don’t believe they’re immoral. I mean, I think that’s a decision that people should be able to make, and I have supported legislation in the past for them to make it.

SMITH: Speaker Gingrich, in that case the courts had ruled repeatedly. How does that square, the Terri Schiavo, action with your understanding of the Constitution and separation of powers?

GINGRICH: Well, look, I think that we go to extraordinary lengths, for example, for people who are on murderers row. They have extraordinary rights of appeal.

And you have here somebody who was in a coma, who had, on the one hand, her husband saying let her die and her parents saying let her live. Now, it strikes me that having a bias in favor of life, and at least going to a federal hearing, which would be automatic if it was a criminal on death row, that it’s not too much to say in some circumstances your rights as an American citizen ought to be respected. And there ought to be at least a judicial review of whether or not in that circumstance you should be allowed to die, which has nothing to do with whether or not you as a citizen have a right to have your own end-of-life prescription which is totally appropriate for you to do as a matter of your values in consultation with your doctor.

SMITH: Congressman Paul, you’re a doctor. What was your view of the Terri Schiavo case?

PAUL: I find it so unfortunate, so unusual, too. That situation doesn’t come up very often. It should teach us all a lesson to have living wills or a good conversation with a spouse. I would want my spouse to make the decision. And — but it’s better to have a living will.

But I don’t like going up the ladder. You know, we go to the federal courts, and the Congress, and on up. Yes, difficult decisions. Will it be perfect for everybody? No. But I would have preferred to see the decision made at the state level.

But I’ve been involved in medicine with things similar, but not quite as difficult as this. But usually, we deferred to the family. And it wasn’t made a big issue like this was. This was way out of proportion to what happens more routinely.

But I think it should urge us all to try to plan for this and make sure either that one individual that’s closest to you makes the decision or you sign a living will. And this would have solved the whole problem.

WILLIAMS: Beth?

REINHARD: Governor Romney, this is the state that put the first men on the moon. America right now has no way to put people into space except to hitch a ride with the Russians. Meanwhile, the Chinese are ramping up their space program. At a time when you all want to shrink federal spending, should space exploration be a priority?

Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: It should certainly be a priority. What we have right now is a president who does not have a vision or a mission for NASA. And as a result of that, there are people on the space coast that are suffering. And Florida itself is — is suffering as a result.

So what’s the right way forward? Well, I happen to believe our space program is important not only for science, but also for commercial development and for military development. And I believe the right mission for — for NASA should be determined by a president together with a collection of people from those different areas, from NASA, from the Air Force space program, from our leading universities, and from commercial enterprises, bring them together, discuss a wide range of options for NASA, and then — and then have NASA not just funded by the federal government, but also by commercial enterprises. Have some of the research done in our universities.

Let’s have a collaborative effort with business, with — with government, with a military, as well as with our educational institutions. Have a mission, once again excite our young people about the potential of space and the commercial potential will pay for itself down the road.

This is a great opportunity. Florida has technology. The people here on the space coast have technology and vision and passion that America needs. And with a president that is actually willing to create a mission and a vision for — for NASA and for space, we can continue to lead the world.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, would you put more tax dollars into the space race and commit to putting an American on Mars, instead of relying on the private sector?

GINGRICH: Well, the two are not incompatible. For example, most of the great breakthroughs in aviation in the ’20s and ’30s were as a result of prizes. Lindbergh flew to Paris for a $25,000 prize. I would like to see vastly more of the money spent encouraging the private sector into very aggressive experimentation. And I’d like a leaner NASA.

I don’t think building a bigger bureaucracy and having a greater number of people sit in rooms and talk gets you there. But if we had a series of goals that we were prepared to offer prizes for, there’s every reason to believe you have a lot of folks in this country and around the world who would put up an amazing amount of money and would make the space coast literally hum with activity because they’d be drawn to achieve these prizes.

Going back to the moon permanently, getting to Mars as rapidly as possible, building a series of space stations and developing commercial space, there are a whole series of things you can do that could be dynamic that are more than just better government bureaucracy. They’re fundamentally leapfrogging into a world where you’re incentivizing people who are visionaries and people in the private sector to invest very large amounts of money in finding very romantic and exciting futures.

REINHARD: Speaker Gingrich, I have another question for you on another topic. You’ve talked about the millions of jobs created by the Reagan tax cuts. If tax cuts create jobs, why didn’t the Bush tax cuts work?

GINGRICH: Well, the Bush tax cuts, I think in a period of great difficulty, with the attack of 9/11, actually stopped us from going into a much deeper slump. I think we would have been in much, much worse shape, and I think most economists agree, that in 2002 and ’03 and ’04 we’d have been in much worse shape without the Bush tax cuts.

But — but you have to also look at the regulatory burden. The reason I called for repealing Dodd-Frank and for repealing Obamacare and for repealing Sarbanes-Oxley is you now have these huge layers of paperwork and government intervention and bureaucratic micromanagement that are crippling the American system and are making it much harder for us to create the kind of jobs we’d want.

In North Dakota today, we have a boom in oil development, unemployment is down to 3.2 percent. They have had seven straight tax cuts at the state level because the oil was on private land.

If that oil had been on public land, the environmentalists and Barack Obama would have stopped its development, and North Dakota would be mired in 8 percent or 9 percent unemployment. So, get the regulations out of the way, get the tax incentives right, and you can get back to creating an amazing number of jobs very fast.

WILLIAMS: To my fellow questioners, our panelists tonight, my thanks.

So ends this section of our conversation. The final bit of our debate from Tampa tonight coming up after this last break.

[commercial break]

WILLIAMS: Welcome back to Tampa for this final section of our conversation tonight. We’re back down to the five of us here on stage. I thought we’d talk a little bit more big picture.

This has been called, in addition to this unprecedented primary contest the GOP is in the midst of, a battle for the soul of the Republican Party. Governor Romney, the question is, about that soul, what have you done to further the cause of conservativism as a Republican leader?

ROMNEY: Well, number one, I’ve raised a family. And I’ve — I’ve — with my wife, we’ve raised five wonderful sons, and we have 16 wonderful grandkids.

Number two, I’ve worked in the private sector. The idea that somehow everything important for conservativism or for America happens in government is simply wrong. I’ve been in the private sector. I worked in one business that was in trouble and helped turn it around. Another I started. And as part of that, we were able to create thousands and thousands of jobs.

And then I took an opportunity to become governor of a state that was slightly Democrat. About 85 percent of my legislature was Democrat. And I worked very hard to promote a conservative agenda. We cut taxes 19 times. We balanced the budget every year, put in place a rainy day fund of over $2 billion by the time I left. We were also successful in having English immersion in our schools, driving our schools to be number one in the nation.

That kind of conservative model in a state like Massachusetts was a model in many respects that other states could look at and say, “OK, conservative principles work.” We were able to reach across the aisle to fight for conservative principles, and now I’m taking that to a presidential campaign, wrote a book about those principles that lay out why I believe they’re right for America.

WILLIAMS: Mr. Speaker, you’ve been talking a lot about conservative principles in this campaign so far. Is that enough for you? Is that good enough?

GINGRICH: Look, I don’t want to spend my time commenting on Mitt. I’d like to just tell you that I started — I went to a Goldwater organizing session in 1964. I met with Ronald Reagan for the first time in 1974. I worked with Jack Kemp and Art Laffer and others to develop supply- side economics in the late ’70s. I helped Governor Reagan become President Reagan. I helped pass the Reagan economic program when I worked with the National Security Council on issues involving the collapse of the Soviet empire.

I then came back, organized a group called GOPAC, spent 16 years building a majority in the House for the first time since 1954, the first re-elected majority since 1928, developed the Conservative Opportunity Society, talked about big ideas, big solutions.

So I think it’s fair to say I’ve spent most of my lifetime trying to develop a conservative movement across this country that relates directly to what we have to do. And I think only a genuine conservative who’s in a position to debate Obama and to show how wide the gap is between Obama’s policies and conservativism can, in fact, win, because he’s going to spend a billion dollars trying to smear whoever the nominee is. And we’d better be prepared to beat him in the debate and prove exactly how wrong his values are and how wrong his practices are.

WILLIAMS: Which, Senator Santorum, gets us back to electability, the gap between the Republican Party and the president. Some of the newspaper headlines about this gathering we were going to have tonight, in Florida, Romney seeks to link Gingrich to foreclosure crisis. And here’s a second one: The verdict is in, Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital problem is real.

What’s the net effect of all this, of the tax release tomorrow, of Freddie — the Freddie Mac release tonight on your party, say your candidacy, as you try to go forward?

SANTORUM: Well, I would say that there are more fundamental issues than that, where there’s a gap and a problem with two of the gentlemen who are up here with me. And one is on the biggest issue that they — we have to deal with in this election, that’s — that’s crushing the economy, will crush it even further and crush freedom, and that’s Obamacare.

Governor Romney’s plan in Massachusetts was the basis for Obamacare. Speaker Gingrich for 20 years supported a federal individual mandate, something that Pam Bondi is now going to the Supreme Court saying is unconstitutional. Speaker Gingrich, for 20 years, up until last year supported an individual mandate, which is at the core of Obamacare.

If you look at cap-and-trade, Governor Romney was very proud to say that he was the first state in the country as governor to sign a cap on CO- 2 emissions, the first state in the country to put a cap believing in — in global warming and criticized Republicans for not believing in it, as did, by the way, Speaker Gingrich, who was for a cap-and-trade program with incentives, business incentives, but was for the rubric of cap-and-trade, not specifically the cap-and-trade bill that was out there.

Again, huge, huge differences between my position and where President Obama is, but not so on two major issues. You go down and you look at the Wall Street bailouts, I said before, here’s one where you had folks who preach conservativism, private sector, and when push came to shove, they got pushed. They didn’t stand tall for the conservative principles that they argued that they were for. And as a result, we ended up with this bailout that has injected government into business like it had never been done before.

SANTORUM: They rejected conservativism when it was hard to stand. It’s going to be hard to stand whoever this president is going to be elected. It’s going to be tough. There is going to be a mountain of problems. It’s going to be easy to be able to bail out and compromise your principles.

We have gentlemen here on the three issues that got the Tea Party started, that are the base of the conservative movement now in the Republican Party. And there is no difference between President Obama and these two gentlemen. And that’s why this election in Florida is so critical, that we have someone that actually can create a contrast between the president and the conservative point of view.

WILLIAMS: Congressmen Paul, are the two men in the middle insufficiently conservative for you?

PAUL: Well, I think the problem is, is nobody has defined what being conservative means.

WILLIAMS: Go ahead.

PAUL: And I think that is our problem.

Conservative means we have a smaller government and more liberty. And yet, if you ask, what have we done? I think we have lost our way.

Our rhetoric is still pretty good, but when we get in charge, we expand the government. You talk about Dodd-Frank, but we gave Sarbanes- Oxley. We gave debts as well, you know, when we’re in charge.

So, if it means limited government, you have to ask the basic question, what should the role of government be? The founders asked that question, had a revolution and wrote a Constitution. And they said the role of government ought to be to protect liberty.

It’s not to run a welfare state and not to be the policemen of the world. And so if you’re a conservative, how can you be conservative and cut food stamps, but you won’t cut spending overseas? There is not a nickel or a penny that anybody will cut on the conservative side, overseas spending. And we don’t have the money.

They are willing to start more wars. So, I say, if you’re conservative, you want small government across the board, especially in personal liberty. What’s wrong with having the government out of our personal lives? So, this is what — we have to decide what conservative means, what limited government means.

And I have a simple suggestion. We have a pretty good guide, and if we follow the Constitution, government would be very small and we would all be devoted conservatives.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, again tonight, so called Romneycare and so-called Obamacare have been positioned very closely side by side by your opponent, the senator. And again, you have been called insufficiently conservative.

ROMNEY: You know, I have a record. You can look at my record. I just described what I had accomplished in Massachusetts. It’s a conservative record.

Also, the fun of running against Ted Kennedy. What a great thrill that was. I didn’t beat him, but he had to take a mortgage out on his house to make sure that he could defeat me. I believe that the policies he put in place had hurt America and helped create a permanent underclass in this country.

My health care plan, by the way, is one that under our Constitution we’re allowed to have. The people in our state chose a plan which I think is working for our state.

At the time we crafted it, I was asked time and again, “Is this something that you would have the federal government do?” I said absolutely not.

I do not support a federal mandate. I do not support a federal one- size-fits-all plan. I believe in the Constitution. That’s why the attorney general here is saying absolutely not.

You can’t impose Obamacare on the states. What I will do if I’m president, I will repeal Obamacare and return to the states the authority and the rights the states have to craft their own programs to care for their own poor.

WILLIAMS: Speaker Gingrich, I know none of you believe in polls, but as we came in here tonight, of the numbers in the known world, your numbers were on the rise. What scares you about the presidency if you made it to the job you want?

GINGRICH: I actually agree with what Rick Santorum said. I believe that whoever the next president is, if we’re going to get America back on the right track, is going to face enormous, difficult problems, some of which have been accurately diagnosed by Dr. Paul.

And the fact is that we have tremendous institutional biases against doing the right thing and against getting things done. And we have huge interest groups who would rather preside over the wreckage than lose their favored position by helping the country.

So I always tell audiences I never ask anyone to be for me. Because if they are for me, they vote yes and go home and say, I sure hope Newt does it. I ask people to be with me, because I think this will be a very hard, very difficult journey. And I find it a very humbling and a very sobering thought that one would have to try to get America back on the right track despite all of our elites and all of our entrenched bureaucracies.

WILLIAMS: Governor Romney, you talk about restoring America’s greatness. Given that, in your view when was America last great?

ROMNEY: America still is great, but we have a lot of people suffering. We have people that are underemployed that shouldn’t be, unemployed that shouldn’t be. Home values continue to go down. We have the median income in this country has declined 10 percent in the last four years.

We’re still a great nation, but a great nation doesn’t have so many people suffering. And I’m running in part because I have experience in how the economy works. And I want to use that experience to get people working again, to get our economy working again.

And the idea to get our economy working is not to have the government play a more intrusive role in how our economy works, but instead to do the seven things that always get an economy going: get taxes competitive, regulation as modest as possible and modernized, get ourselves energy independent, open up trade with other nations and crack down on cheaters, make sure we don’t have crony capitalism — that’s what we have going on right now — build human capital through education, and also finally balance the budget.

People will not invest in an economy and create new jobs if they think we’re going to hit a Greece-like wall. I will do those seven things and get America working again.

WILLIAMS: I want to thank all of our candidates and our hosts, of course, here at the University of South Florida. We are obligated at this point to say, “Go Bulls.” [applause]

September 12, 2011: CNN /  Tea Party Express Republican Presidential Debate Transcript

Republican Candidates Debate in Tampa, Florida September 12, 2011

PARTICIPANTS:
Representative Michele Bachmann (MN);
Herman Cain (GA);
Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich (GA);
Former Governor Jon Huntsman (UT);
Representative Ron Paul (TX);
Governor Rick Perry (TX);
Former Governor Mitt Romney (MA); and
Former Senator Rick Santorum (PA)MODERATOR:
Wolf Blitzer (CNN);

BLITZER: And welcome to the Florida State Fairgrounds here in Tampa, the site of the first ever Tea Party/Republican presidential debate.

One year from now, right here in Tampa, the Republican National Convention will nominate the Republican candidate for president of the United States.

Tonight, eight contenders will be on this stage to try to convince voters he or she is the best choice to hold the highest office in the country. And joining them inside this hall, Tea Party activists from Florida and across the nation.

I’m Wolf Blitzer.

I’d like to welcome our viewers in the United States and around the world, including U.S. troops and their families watching overseas.

Tonight’s debate is airing on CNN, CNN International, CNN en Espanol, and the American Forces Network seen on U.S. military bases in 175 countries and aboard Navy ships at sea around the globe.

We also want to welcome our co-sponsors, the Tea Party Express, and more than 100 state and local Tea Party groups from across the United States.

Members of the Tea Party movement will play an active role in this debate. We’ll take questions from here in Florida, one of the most critical battleground states in the nation. We’ll also take questions from Tea Party activists in three other key states.

Watch parties are under way right now in Portsmouth, Virginia, an historic Navy port and a 2012 election battleground. In Phoenix, Arizona, the western states shaping the national debate over immigration. And in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Midwestern swing state that has been decisive in so many elections.

BLITZER: It’s time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders.

[applause]

Joining us now on stage, the former U.S. senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

[applause]

BLITZER: The former Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

[applause]

BLITZER: Texas Congressman Ron Paul.

[applause]

BLITZER: Texas Governor Rick Perry.

[applause]

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney.

[applause]

ROMNEY: Hey, guys. Hi.

BLITZER: Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann.

[applause]

The former president and CEO of Godfather’s Pizza, Herman Cain.

[applause]

And the former governor of Utah, Jon Huntsman.

[applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican candidates for president of the United States.

[applause]

Ladies and gentlemen, please rise now and join recording artist Diana Nagy as she leads us in the national anthem.

DIANA NAGY, RECORDING ARTIST: [Sings “The Star Spangled Banner”]

BLITZER: Diana Nagy, thanks very, very much.

Candidates, please take your podiums. And while you do, I want to tell all of our viewers, everyone here a little bit more about how this debate will work.

I, obviously, will be the moderator. I’ll ask questions and follow-ups, and I’ll work to try my best to make sure that each candidate is getting his or her fair share of the questions and the answer time. And as I mentioned, the tea party activists will be asking questions here in the hall, as well as from our remote sites. And, viewers, you, too, can participate. We’re accepting questions for the candidates on Twitter — make sure to include #cnnteaparty — on Facebook and, of course, on cnnpolitics.com. Each candidate will have about one minute to answer questions and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. I’ll make sure that each candidate gets the time to respond if they are singled out for specific criticism.

It’s important that the American public knows where the candidates agree on the substantive issues and where they disagree. We want everyone watching to emerge from this debate more informed about these eight people, who each want to become the president of the United States.

Now that the candidates are all in place, it’s time for the candidates to introduce themselves to our audience. I’m asking them all to keep it very, very short. Here’s an example of what I have in mind.

I’m Wolf Blitzer, and I’m usually in “The Situation Room,” but tonight I’m thrilled to be at the Tea Party Republican presidential debate.

[applause]

Governor Huntsman, we’ll begin with you.

HUNTSMAN: Wolf, delighted to be here. Yesterday, we were reminded how extraordinary this country is when we pull together during a time of need. Today, ladies and gentlemen, we are deeply divided. I believe I have the experience and the leadership necessary to move this country forward.

CAIN: I’m Herman Cain. I am the only non-politician on this stage tonight, and I believe that America has become a nation of crises. That’s why I want to be president of the United States of America.

BACHMANN: My name is Michele Bachmann. I know we can do so much better in this country. That’s why I’m the chief author of the bill to repeal Dodd-Frank, the bill to repeal Obamacare. And that’s why I brought the voice of the Tea Party to the United States Congress as the founder of the Tea Party Caucus.

[applause]

ROMNEY: My name is Mitt Romney. And like you, I recognize that America’s economy is in crisis. Got a lot of people without work, and a lot of people wonder whether the future is going to be brighter for their kids. I spent my life in the private sector. I understand how jobs come to America and why they go. And I want to use that experience to get America growing again, adding jobs, and assuring every citizen that they know that their kid and their grandkid will have a brighter future. Thank you.

[applause]

PERRY: I’m Governor Rick Perry. And I’m proud to be here today with the Tea Party Express. And I simply want to get America working again and make Washington, D.C., as inconsequential in your life as I can.

[applause]

PAUL: I’m Congressman Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas. I’ve been in the Congress for 20 years. My goal has always been to promote the cause of liberty and to obey the Constitution. I plan to do that as president, as well.

GINGRICH: I’m Newt Gingrich. I think it is totally appropriate that we’re having this particular debate on 9/12. And in the spirit of 9/12, I hope to work with you to fundamentally, profoundly change Washington in what will be a long and difficult struggle against the forces of reaction and special interests.

[applause]

SANTORUM: I’m Rick Santorum. I’m a former two-term senator from a state that has over a million more registered Democrats than Republicans, and I won two elections there without having to change my policies or my party to win.

[applause]

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the eight Republican presidential candidates.

[applause]

All right. Let’s — let’s start off here in Tampa. We have a Tea Party activist. Please identify yourself and ask your question.

QUESTION: [off-mike] Tea Party, Jacksonville, Florida. My question: How will you convince senior citizens that Social Security and Medicare need to be changed and get their vote?

BLITZER: Good question. Let me begin with Michele Bachmann. Congresswoman, how do you do that? How do you go ahead and change, reform Social Security, Medicare, while at the same time getting votes?

BACHMANN: Well, one thing that we need to let senior citizens know is, for those who are currently on the Social Security system, the United States government made a promise to senior citizens, and we have to keep that promise to them.

But we also need to know that for those who are not yet on the system, the system simply has to be reformed in order for it to work. The same goes with Medicare. We know that President Obama stole over $500 billion out of Medicare to switch it over to Obamacare. We also know that Medicare hospital trust fund will be bankrupt within nine years. These are programs that need to be saved to serve people, and in their current form, they can’t.

So we need to have someone who understands these programs, who — who understands the solutions to these programs. I’m a person that’s had feet in the private sector and a foot in the federal government. I’ve been there long enough to know the problems, but not long enough to become a part of the system. I know what to do, and I have the core of conviction to be able to make the changes that senior citizens can count on.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, speaking of Social Security, you’ve said in the past it’s a Ponzi scheme, an absolute failure, unconstitutional, but today you wrote an article in USA Today saying it must be saved and reformed, very different tone. Why?

PERRY: Well, first off, the people who are on Social Security today need to understand something. Slam-dunk guaranteed, that program is going to be there in place for those. Those individuals that are moving towards being on Social Security, that program’s going to be there for them when they arrive there.

But the idea that we have not had the courage to stand up and look Americans in the face, young mid-career professionals or kids that are my children’s age and look them in the eye and said, listen, this is a broken system. It has been called a ponzi scheme by many people long before me. But no one’s had the courage to stand up and say, here is how we’re going to reform it.

We’re going to transform it for those in those mid-career ages, but we’re going to fix it so that our young Americans that are going out into the workforce today will know without a doubt that there were some people who came along that didn’t lie to them, that didn’t try to go around the edges and told them the truth.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you said that Governor Perry’s position on Social Security is, quote, unacceptable and could even obliterate the Republican Party. Are you saying he could not, as Republican nominee, beat Barack Obama?

ROMNEY: No, what I’m saying is that what he just said, I think most people agree with, although the term ponzi scheme I think is over the top and unnecessary and frightful to many people. But the real issue is in writing his book, Governor Perry pointed out that in his view that Social Security is unconstitutional, that this is not something the federal government ought to be involved in, that instead it should be given back to the states.

And I think that view, and the view that somehow Social Security has been forced on us over the past 70 years that by any measure, again quoting book, by any measure Social Security has been a failure, this is after 70 years of tens of millions of people relying on Social Security, that’s a very different matter.

So the financing of Social Security, we’ve all talked about at great length. In the last campaign four years around, John McCain said it was bankrupt. I put in my book a series of proposals on how to get it on sound financial footing so that our kids can count on it not just our current seniors.

But the real question is does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional and it should be returned to the states or is he going to retreat from that view?

BLITZER: Let’s let Governor Perry respond. You have 30 seconds.

PERRY: If what you’re trying to say is that back in the ’30s and the ’40s that the federal government made all the right decision, I disagree with you. And it’s time for us to get back to the constitution and a program that’s been there 70 or 80 years, obviously we’re not going to take that program away. But for people to stand up and support what they did in the ’30s or what they’re doing in the 2010s is not appropriate for America.

ROMNEY: But the question is, do you still believe that Social Security should be ended as a federal program as you did six months ago when your book came out and returned to the states or do you want to retreat from taht?

PERRY: I think we ought to have a conversation.

ROMNEY: We’re having that right now, governor. We’re running for president.

PERRY: And I’ll finish this conversation. But the issue is, are there ways to move the states into Social Security for state employees or for retirees? We did in the state of Texas back in the 1980s. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America, rather than trying to scare seniors like you’re doing and other people, it’s time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program where it’s not bankrupt and our children actually know that there’s going to be a retirement program there for them.

ROMNEY: Governor, the term ponzi scheme is what scared seniors, number one. And number two, suggesting that Social Security should no longer be a federal program and returned to the states and unconstitutional is likewise frightening.

Look, there are a lot of bright people who agree with you. And that’s your view. I happen to have a different one. I think that Social Security is an essential program that we should change the way we’re funding it. You called it a criminal…

PERRY: You said if people did it in the private sector it would be called criminal. That’s in your book.

ROMNEY: Yeah, what I said was…

[applause]

ROMNEY: Governor Perry you’ve got to quote me correctly. You said it’s criminal. What I said was congress taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is like criminal and that is and it’s wrong.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, let me expand this conversation. Do you agree with Governor Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?

PAUL: Well, I agree that Social Security is broke. We spent all the money and it’s on its last legs unless we do something. One bill that I had in congress never got passed was to prevent the congress from spending any of that money on the wars and all the nonsense that we do around the world.

Now the other thing that I would like to see done is a transition. I think it’s terrible that the Social Security system is in the — the problems it has, but if people wouldn’t have spent the money we would be OK.

Now, what I would like to do is to allow all the young people to get out of Social Security and go on their own. Now, the big question is, is how would the funding occur?

BLITZER: All right. Hold that thought for a minute, because I want Herman Cain to get involved.

Are you with Governor Perry that Social Security is a Ponzi scheme?

CAIN: I don’t care what you call it, it’s broken. And here’s my solution.

[applause]

CAIN: Start with optional personal retirement accounts. In 1981, the Galveston County employees, they opted out because that was a very short window of opportunity. They took it. Today, when people retire in Galveston County, Texas, they retire making at least 50 percent more than they would ever get out of Social Security.

[applause]

Secondly, allow younger workers to have personal retirement accounts as an option.

Now, to answer this gentleman’s question, current seniors will not be affected. It’s to give the option to the younger workers.

The Galveston County model worked, and it also worked in the small country of Chile. Instead of giving it to the states, let’s give it back to the workers. That’s what personal retirement accounts will do.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, when it comes to reforming Social Security, is anything from your perspective off the table?

HUNTSMAN: I don’t think anything should be off the table except maybe some of the drama that’s playing out here on this floor today. I mean, to hear these two go at it over here, it’s almost incredible.

You’ve got Governor Romney, who called it a fraud in his book “No Apology.” I don’t know if that was written by Kurt Cobain or not. And then you’ve got Governor Perry, who is calling this a Ponzi scheme.

All I know, Wolf, is that we’re frightening the American people who just want solutions. And this party isn’t going to win in 2012 unless we get our act together and fix the problem.

We all know that we’ve got entitlement problems, we’ve got Medicare, we’ve got Social — the fixes are there. I mean, the Ryan plan is there, for heaven’s sake.

We’ve got the answers. We don’t have leadership. That’s the problem.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich, would you raise the retirement age for Social Security recipients?

GINGRICH: No, not necessarily, but let me start with — I’m not particularly worried about Governor Perry and Governor Romney frightening the American people when President Obama scares them every single day.

[applause]

GINGRICH: This is eating into my time.

Let me just say to all of you —

BLITZER: Let me just pinpoint the question. What would you do to fix Social Security?

GINGRICH: OK. But can I also expand for a second? Because that was not a rhetorical joke.

President Obama twice said recently he couldn’t guarantee delivering the checks to Social Security recipients. Now, why should young people who are 16 to 25 years old have politicians have the power for the rest of their life to threaten to take away their Social Security?

[applause]

GINGRICH: Now, I just want to make two simple points about Social Security and how you save it.

The first is, you get back to a full employment economy, and at four percent unemployment you have such a huge increase in funding, that you change every single out year (ph) of projection in a positive way.

The second is you say precisely as several folks here have said it, if you are younger — everybody who is older and wants to be totally protected, fine, no change. So don’t let anybody lie to you, starting with the president. No change. But if you’re younger and you would like a personal account, you would control instead of the politicians. And you know you’ll have more money at the end of your lifetime if you control it than the politicians.

Why shouldn’t you have the right to choose?

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, when it comes to Social Security, are you with Governor Romney or Governor Perry?

SANTORUM: Well, the question is who is with me? Because I’ve been out here talking about — you want to talk about courage to tell the truth, Governor? I was out in 1994 running against a Democratic incumbent in a campaign managed by James Carville, and I went out and talked about Social Security reform.

Why? Because I knew this day was coming. And I had the courage to go out and say Social Security is in trouble. And I told a group of young people at La Salle University that we needed to do something like raising the retirement age.

They ran that on TV for three weeks prior to the election, in the second oldest per capita state in the country. And I still won the election. Why? Because the people of Pennsylvania wanted someone who had the courage to tell them the truth.

[applause]

SANTORUM: And I had the courage to tell them the truth.

And what I’ve done since I was in the United States Senate is every year I proposed — I went, in fact, with Bill Clinton in 1997 on the first bipartisan Social Security town hall meeting, and I was the spokesperson, a Republican conservative from a blue state out there leading the charge on Social Security.

You folks want someone with courage? I’ve got a track record of courage and a track record of concrete proposals on how to fix this, among some of the things that have been discussed here tonight.

BLITZER: Senator, thank you.

Let’s go to another question. We have a question now from the audience.

Go ahead. Identify yourself.

DR. BRIDGET MELSON, PLEASANTON TEA PARTY: Hi. My name is Dr. Bridget Melson with the Pleasanton Tea Party. Good to be here.

My question for you is, what is your plan to balance the budget and get this spending under control so that my children’s share of the debt is erased without compromising my retired mother’s already tenuous financial future?

BLITZER: Good question. Let me ask Speaker Gingrich to respond, and I’ll sort of paraphrase it.

How do you do that? How do you protected seniors, balance the budget? So much of the budget goes to defense and entitlements like Social Security, Medicare.

GINGRICH: But that’s just a Washington mythology. And anybody who knows anything about the federal government knows that there’s such an enormous volume of waste, that if you simply had a serious all-all effort to modernize the federal government, you would have hundreds of billions of dollars of savings falling off.

Let me say, I helped balance the budget for four straight years. This is not a theory. Rick and I were working together on this. This is not a theory. You voted for it. So we can balance the federal budget.

But let me start with — all of you should go to Strong America Now, which is a group that believes if you modernize the federal government, you save $500 billion a year. Now, check and see whether the super committee of 12 in their august power is willing to sit down with that group and actually learn how to be smart rather than cheap, and actually modernize the federal government.

One example, the federal government is such a bad manager of money, that somewhere between $70 billion and $120 billion a year in Medicare and Medicaid is paid to crooks. We wrote a book several years ago called “Stop Paying the Crooks.” I thought it was pretty obvious even for Washington. So I would start to balance the budget by stop paying the crooks, not by cheating honest Americans.

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, staying on the issue of spending, budget deficits, you voted for the prescription drug benefits for seniors when you were in the United States Senate costing about $1 trillion. If you had to do it over again, you wouldn’t vote for that, but if you were president of the United States, would you repeal prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

SANTORUM: I think we have to keep a prescription drug component, but we have to pay for it. In other words, we have to have a program that is funded.

Now, the reason that that program has actually worked well is it’s come in 40 percent under budget because it’s a program that uses private sector insurance, not government-run, one-size-fits-all health care. If we do that for the rest of Medicare, which is what the Ryan proposal suggests, and something that I proposed, again, years ago, had the courage to go out and lead on this issue, then we would be able to have a prescription drug program and we’d be able to have Medicare that you choose.

The idea that unless we have a government-run, one-size-fits-all Medicare program, that that’s throwing grandma off a cliff, is Washington think — is people who think in Washington this president, who believes that they know better than you how to run your life and how to purchase your health care. I trust you, I trust the American people. That is the greatness of our country.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Senator.

Governor Perry, it was President Bush who pushed for prescription drug benefits for senior, not President Obama. It was President Bush who pushed for prescription drug benefits for seniors. The question to you: If you were president — it’s not a difficult question — would you vote to eliminate, to repeal those prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

PERRY: No. It’s a $17 trillion hole that we have in our budget we’ve got to deal with. And I think that’s the issue of, how do you find the savings and still deliver the services?

For instance, in the state of Texas, we combined a substantial amount of our health and human services from 10 down to five agencies. We put an Office of Inspector General into place, and we saved over $5.3 billion, Newt, just by finding the waste and the fraud in Texas state government. I’m thinking there might be more waste and fraud in the federal government than even there is in the Texas government.

BLITZER: But, Governor, just to be precise, if you were president, you wouldn’t repeal prescription drug benefits for seniors under Medicare?

PERRY: That’s what I said when I started the conversation.

BLITZER: OK. Just want to be precise on that, Governor.

Governor Romney, what about you?

ROMNEY: I wouldn’t repeal it. I’d reform Medicare and reform Medicaid and reform Social Security to get them on a sustainable basis, not for current retirees, but for those in their 20s and 30s and early 50s.

But the key to balancing the budget — and we talk about all the waste in government and the inefficiency. And having spent 25 years in business, I know something about taking waste out of enterprises. I’d love to do that to the federal government. And there is massive waste.

But we’re not going to balance the budget just by pretending that all — all we have to do is take out the waste. We’re going to have to cut spending. And I’m in favor of cutting spending, capping federal spending as a percentage of GDP, at 20 percent or less, and having a balanced budget amendment. That’s essential to rein in the scale of the federal government.

And there’s a second part to balancing the budget, and that’s growing the economy again. And that’s why I laid out a plan to restructure the foundation of America’s economy to start creating jobs again so people are paying taxes, businesses are paying taxes, not because we’re raising the rates, but because we’re growing the economy.

The right answer for America is to stop the growth of the federal government and to start the growth of the private sector.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, what about you? Would you repeal it?

PAUL: Well, we shouldn’t have never started it. I voted against it. But that sure wouldn’t be on my high list. I would find a lot of cuts a lot of other places. As a matter of fact, on Social Security, it is already being reformed, because the cost of living increases aren’t there, so the value is going down.

So, no, there’s places we should cut. And we cut — we spend — and I’m not sure I can get anybody to agree with me on here — on this panel, but we spend $1.5 trillion overseas in wars that we don’t need to be in and we need to cut there…

[applause]

… and then put this money back into our economy here. And that is the only way to achieve it. Then it still wouldn’t be enough in order to get some people out. What we need to do is cut the Department of Education, the Department of Energy, and all these departments, and get rid of them.

[applause]

Then we can do it.

BLITZER: We’re going to get to national security. Don’t worry.

Congresswoman Bachmann, what about you?

BACHMANN: I think that the principle has to change, because for years, politicians have run on the idea that government is going to buy people more stuff and that the federal government would be taking care of people’s prescription drugs, their retirement, their health care, their housing, their food.

We’re the everybody else that’s paying for the freight for all of these things. That’s the principle that has to change, because we have to now recognize that, going forward…

[applause]

… this isn’t going to work anymore. We have to be an ownership society, where individual responsibility, personal responsibility once again becomes the animating American principle. And we can’t be ashamed of that.

BLITZER: All right, we’ve got a lot more to discuss. We’re only just beginning. I want to take a quick break. I want our viewers out there to know they can weigh in, they can respond. Go to Twitter, Facebook, cnn.com. We want to hear from you if you have questions for these eight Republican presidential candidates. You’ll have an opportunity to get some questions to them. We’re going to talk about jobs, jobs, jobs when we come back.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. We’ve got a question from Portsmouth, Virginia. Please identify yourself. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Good evening. My name is Sandra Jones (ph) from Yorktown, Virginia. My question is, what would you do to get the economy moving forward? Do you have a plan? And, if so, what is it?

BLITZER: All right, good question. Let’s ask Governor Huntsman. The first thing you would do as president of the United States, knowing, of course, that President Obama today formally gave legislation to Congress with his jobs plan?

HUNTSMAN: Let us recognize, first and foremost, that what we’re seeing playing out in America is a human tragedy. We have millions and millions who are unemployed, millions beyond who are so dispirited they’ve completely given up trying to find a job. We’ve got moms and dads and families that have been economically shipwrecked. And it’s a great American tragedy that we’re watching play out.

I have put forward a program that I want all of you to understand is basically patterned after what I did as governor. I think when you look at everybody on the stage here, all you have to do is say, where have they been and what have they done?

First and foremost, I want to reform this tax code. I put forward a program that the Wall Street Journal has come out and endorsed. It basically calls for stripping out the loopholes and the deductions and lowering the rates for individuals, cleaning out corporate welfare and subsidies on the corporate side and lowering the rate, leaving us a whole lot more competitive for the 21st century. That’s the first item of business I’d drop on the doorstep of Congress.

Second is regulatory reform, because we cannot go forward with Obamacare.

[applause]

We cannot go forward with Dodd-Frank, because businesses in this country are saying there’s no predictability, there’s no ability to see around the bend, we don’t know what costs are going to be, we’re not hiring and bringing new people on.

Third, this country needs to wean itself from its heroin-like addiction to foreign oil. We need energy independence desperately in this country.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

Governor Perry, the president in his new plan has a lot of tax cuts, payroll tax cuts, middle-class tax cuts, tax credits for hiring veterans, tax credits for hiring long-term unemployed people. Are those things you would support?

PERRY: And he’s going to pay for them all with raising your taxes. That is the issue. He had $800 billion worth of stimulus in the first round of stimulus. It created zero jobs, $400-plus billion dollars in this package. And I can do the math on that one. Half of zero jobs is going to be zero jobs.

[laughter]

This president does not understand how to free up the small businessmen and women or, for that matter, Wall Street. You give people the opportunity to risk their capital by lowering the tax burden on them, by lowering the regulatory climate, and you will see an American economy that takes off like a rocket ship.

And that’s what we need to be focusing on in this country, freeing up the small businessmen and women to do what they know how to do, which is risk their capital and give them half a chance to have an opportunity to have a return on that investment, and they will go risk their capital. That’s what the president of the United States needs to do: Quit the spending. Give clear regulatory relief and reform the tax code.

BLITZER: So just to be precise, Governor, whenever the president supports tax cuts, that has to be balanced with spending cuts?

PERRY: I would suggest to you that people are tired of spending money we don’t have on programs we don’t want.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, I’m going to bring Mr. Cain in, in a moment, but the Bush tax cuts in 2001 and 2003, which went across the board, were not offset with spending cuts, and as a result, potentially, a lot of economists think, the deficit went up and up and up.

BACHMANN: Well, there’s a reason why the deficit went up and up and up. When you have a trillion dollars worth of spending that you don’t pay for, it’s going to go up. And now we’re seeing again that the president wants to do more of the same.

I was the leading voice in the wilderness of Washington all summer. I was one of the only people in Washington that said do not raise the debt ceiling. Don’t give the president of the United States another $2.4 trillion blank check. You’ve got to draw the line in the sand somewhere and say no more out of control spending.

The president wanted to borrow money from countries like China to pay it back for a stimulus. We’ve got $1.2 trillion already that’s been earned by American countries overseas. If we have a 0 percent tax rate, Wolf, we can bring that 1.2 trillion — it’s called repatriation — bring that in. You’d have 1.2 trillion flooded into the system, then pass the free trade agreements so that we can move the economy, permanently lower the tax code. I’m a federal tax lawyer. I know how to do that. Repeal Dodd-Frank, repeal Obamacare.

It really isn’t that tough if you try. It is easy to turn around this economy, just have the backbone to do it.

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: Yes.

This economy is on life support. I don’t want – we need a bold solution, not one that tinkers around the edges, not one that allows politicians to continue to pick winners and losers. I believe we throw out the entire tax code and put in my nine nine nine plan. nine nine nine. A 9 percent business flat tax, a 9 percent personal income tax and a 9 national sales tax. Now I’ve been told by some people, well, you can’t get that done. I say why? Well, because you don’t know how Washington works. Yes, I do. It doesn’t.

The American people are ready to do something bold. We need a bold solution in order to get this economy growing at the maximum rate.

I agree with many of the others up here who say, you get the government out of the way. American entrepreneurship, American businesses, they will create the jobs if we provide some certainty.

BLITZER: Governor Romney, you know Governor Perry as governor of Texas created more jobs in Texas than any other state.

ROMNEY: Terrific state, no question about that. Some wonderful things that Texas has going for it that the nation could learn from. zero income tax. That’s a pretty good thing. Right to work state. Republican legislature, Republican supreme court.

By the way, a lot of oil as well.

We’re an energy rich nation. We’re living like an energy poor nation.

I spent my life in the private sector. I’ve competed with companies around the world. I’ve learned something about how it is that economies grow. It’s not just simple wave a wand and everything gets better. No, you have to make some structural changes. The world has changed.

What’s happened over the last 20, 30 years is we’ve gone from a pay phone world to a smartphone world and President Obama keeps jamming quarters into the pay phone thinking things are going to get better. It’s not connected, Mr. President.

And if we’re going to get this economy going, we’ve got seven, one, make our tax code competitive with the world. Two, get regulations to work to encourage enterprise. Three, to make sure we have trade policies that work for us not just for the other guys. Four is to have energy security in this country by developing our energy resources. Five so execute the rule of law, which is to stop the Boeing decision that the NLRB put in place. Six is to make sure that we have institutions that create fantastic human capital. And finally number seven is to balance the budget. People won’t invest here unless they have confidence here. And that’s what I’ll do.

BLITZER: And just to get back to the question. So does Governor Perry deserve any credit for all those jobs that were created in Texas?

ROMNEY: Oh, sure.

BLITZER: Go ahead and tell him how much credit he deserves.

[laughter]

ROMNEY: Well, look, I think Governor Perry would agree with me that if you’re dealt four aces that doesn’t make you necessarily a great poker player. And four aces — and the four aces that are terrific aces are the ones the nation should learn from, the ones I described, zero income tax, low regulation, right to work state, oil in the ground and a Republican legislature. Those things are terrific.

And by the way, there has been great growth in Texas. Under Ann Richards, job growth was under 2.5 percent a year, under George Bush was 3 percent a year, under Rick Perry it’s been 1 percent a year.

Those are all good numbers. Those are all good numbers. But Texas is a great state. And I’ll tell you, if you think that the country is like Texas going swimmingly well, then somebody who has done that is just terrific. But if you think the the country needs a turnaround, that’s what I do.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Perry, you were dealt four aces.

PERRY: Well, I was going to say Mitt you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker. But the fact is the state of Texas has led the nation. While the current resident of the White House is overseeing the loss of 2.5 million jobs, Texas during my period of governor has created over a million jobs. And we did that during some pretty tough economic period.

[applause]

PERRY: One of the things that’s really important, one of the things that the Fed Reserve chairman said was the most powerful — one of the most powerful things that happened, was tort reform that we passed in that state. And you want to talk about some powerful job creation? Tell the trial lawyers to get out of your state and to quit costing businessmen and women.

[applause]

PERRY: That’s what needs to happen in the states, and it’s also what needs to happen at the federal level, passing federal tort reform at those federal levels.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you’re from Texas. Does your governor deserve all that credit?

PAUL: Not quite.

[laughter]

PAUL: I’m a taxpayer there. My taxes have gone up. Our taxes have doubled since he’s been in office. Our spending has gone up double. 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.

[applause]

PAUL: But I would like to mention something that we said earlier about a tax cut and can you — how do you pay for a tax cut? I think that’s the wrong principle, because when you give people their money back, it’s their money.

You don’t have to pay for it. That means that the government owns all of our money if you look that way.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right.

PAUL: So we have to cut the spending, and a good way to start, there’s a little embassy we built over in Baghdad that cost us a billion dollars. It’s bigger than the Vatican. That’s what’s bankrupting this country, and that’s the easy place to cut. That’s where we should be cutting.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Perry, you have 30 seconds to tell Congressman Paul whether you’re going to raise his taxes.

PERRY: While I’ve been governor, we have cut taxes by $14 billion, 65 different pieces of legislation. You may not have seen them, Representative Paul, but the fact of the matter is, there are people coming to Texas for five years in a row, the number one destination. They’re not coming because we’re overtaxing them.

They’re coming to Texas because they know there’s still a land of freedom in America, freedom from over-taxation, freedom from over- litigation and freedom from over-regulation, and it’s called Texas. We need to do the same thing for America.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me bring Speaker Gingrich into this conversation.

Jobs, jobs, jobs. All of us who covered you when you were Speaker — and you worked with President Clinton at the time — you compromised, he compromised, you got things done. There was a budget surplus for as far as the eye could see.

If you were president, would you work with the Democrats, assuming they were the majority in the House or the Senate? Would you compromise with them on some of these gut issues?

GINGRICH: Well, you know, after the last debate, when Governor Huntsman and Governor Perry and Governor Romney each explained how their state was the best at job creation, Brady Castis (ph), who works with me, went back and checked. In the four years I was Speaker, we created — the American people, not me — created more jobs in Utah than under Governor Huntsman, more jobs in Massachusetts than under Governor Romney, and more jobs in Texas than in the 11 years of Governor Perry.

Now, I don’t claim credit for that because it was done by investors and done — in fact, Mitt, at that time, as the private sector, was part of the job creation. But I just want to point out, the American people create jobs, not government. OK?

[applause]

GINGRICH: Now, Ronald Reagan — when I was a very young congressman, Ronald Reagan taught me a great lesson if you have Democrat in charge. And that is to go to the American people on principle, have the American people educate their congressmen.

He used to say, “I try to turn up the light for the people so they will turn up the heat on Congress.” When we passed welfare reform, half the Democrats voted yes because they couldn’t go home having voted no. And on a principle basis, I’d be glad to work with Democrats in any office, but I’d do it on principle, not on compromising principle.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right. We have a question via CNNPolitics.com. “All of you profess to be pro-business candidates for president. Can you be pro-worker at the same time?”

Mr. Cain?

CAIN: The answer is absolutely yes, because I was a worker before I was an executive and before I was a business owner. Absolutely.

And when I ran the National Restaurant Association, it is a collection of small businesses. Godfather’s Pizza is the same way, when I ran the region for Burger King. One restaurant is the basic fundamental business unit in this country. And so, yes, I know how to be pro-worker because I came from a pro-worker family. My mother was a domestic worker, my father was a barber, a janitor, and a chauffeur, all at the same time. I understand work because that’s how I came up. So the answer is, absolutely yes.

The two are not mutually exclusive, but what we need is the right leadership, starting with, are we working on the right problems? If we keep tinkering around the edges on the tax code or tinkering around the edges on Social Security, we’re not going to solve the right problem.

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Cain.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, you have experience in the business community, in government. Why would you be more effective in creating jobs than any of your rivals on this stage?

HUNTSMAN: Well, let me just say about workers, this country needs more workers. Can we say that?

This country needs more workers, and we’re not going to get more workers until we actually have an economic plan led by someone who has actually done it before, presumably as a governor, to create the environment in which the private sector can then work its magic. That’s how we’re going to get from point A to point B.

But let me just say that we have put forward a plan, Wolf. And I want people to take a serious look at this, because you can come up with a spin on everything — any way to describe your plan, come up with fancy language, but I just want you to take a look at what we have done where we have been in terms of proposing job creation measures under tax reform in our state that is totally applicable to what this country needs: looking at regulatory reform; creating the most business-friendly environment in the entire United States; creating health care reform without a mandate.

I know that everything’s bigger in Texas, and Rick likes to talk that way. And I know all the smart people reside in Massachusetts. But let me just tell you, Utah, the great state of Utah, was number one in job creation at 5.9 percent during my years as governor.

We were the best managed state in America. We were the best place in America for business.

I’m the only person on this stage, Wolf, who can actually lay claim to all of that. And you know why it’s important? It’s because it’s exactly what this country needs at this point in his history.

BLITZER: All right. We’re going to let everybody respond. We’ve got a lot more to talk about, including national security — it’s a critical issue — taxes, Federal Reserve, health care, many more subjects coming up.

Stay with us. Remember, go to Twitter or Facebook, CNNPolitics.com. We want to hear from you as well.

Our special coverage of this historic CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate will continue after this.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN/Tea Party presidential debate. We’re here in Tampa.

Let’s go right to a question from the audience.

Please give us your name.

STEVE ROUTSZONG, GREATER GASTON COUNTY TEA PARTY: Good evening. I’m Steve Routszong with the Tea Party of Greater Gaston County, from Gastonia, North Carolina.

My question tonight is: What is your position on the Federal Reserve? Should it indeed be audited and be held accountable by the American people?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: I agree with an audit on the Federal Reserve. I believe that what we should do with the Fed is to make it a single charter instead of a dual charter.

I think the second charter that was instituted that had it be responsible for increasing employment and dealing with that leads to a fundamental distrust among the American people that they are taking their eye off the ball, which is sound money. They should be a sound money Federal Reserve. That should be their single charter, and that is it.

With respect to some of the questions that were asked in the last segment on the economy, I would just say this. Some people say that Barack Obama’s economy is a disaster. My feeling is it would have to make a dramatic improvement just to be a disaster. The…

[laughter]

[applause]

What we need to do is have a pro-growth plan that can pass the Congress with Democratic support and, as Newt mentioned, be able to rally the American people. What the American people want is a policy that’s going to get people the opportunity to rise in society, to fill that great middle of America, and that is manufacturing jobs.

That’s why my plan takes the corporate tax, which is 35 percent, cuts it to zero, and says, if you manufacture in America, you aren’t going to pay any taxes. We want you to come back here. We want you to have “Made in America” stamped on your — your product.

[applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: Yes.

BLITZER: You were once with the Kansas City Federal Reserve. Should it be audited?

CAIN: Yes, it can — it should be audited. And, secondly, I believe that its focus needs to be narrowed. I don’t believe in ending the Fed; I believe in fixing the Fed.

For many, many decades, the Fed did its job when it was singularly focused on sound money. When we wake up in the morning, we expect 60 minutes to be in an hour. Now when we wake up, because of some of the actions of the current Fed, we don’t know what the value of the dollar is going to be.

In 1988, it took 1.2 dollars in order to be able to convert from Canadian to U.S. It is now totally reversed because of the current policies of the Fed.

BLITZER: Thank you. Congresswoman Bachmann, you know that Governor Perry has suggested that Ben Bernanke, the head of the Federal Reserve, potentially should be tried for treason for what he’s doing.

[applause]

Do you agree?

BACHMANN: Well, as president of the United States, I would not be reappointing Ben Bernanke, but I want to say this. During the bailout, the $700 billion bailout, I worked behind the scenes against the bailout, because one of the things that I saw from the Federal Reserve, the enabling act legislation is written so broadly that, quite literally, Congress has given the Federal Reserve almost unlimited power over the economy.

That has to change. They can no longer have that power. Why? Because what we saw, with all of the $700 billion bailout, is that the Federal Reserve opened its discount window and was making loans to private American businesses. And not only that, they’re making loans to foreign governments.

This cannot be. The Federal Reserve has a lot to answer for. And that’s why it’s important that they’re not only audited, but they have got be shrunk back down to such a tight leash that they’re going to squeak.

BLITZER: It’s one thing to say you wouldn’t reappoint him, Ben Bernanke…

[applause]

… to be head of the Federal Reserve. It’s another thing — do you agree or disagree with Governor Perry that potentially he’s engaged in treason?

BACHMANN: Well, that’s for — that’s for Governor Perry to make that decision. My — my opinion is, I would not reappoint Ben Bernanke.

BLITZER: You stand by those remarks, Governor?

PERRY: I — I said that, if you are allowing the Federal Reserve to be used for political purposes, that it would be almost treasonous. I think that is a very clear statement of fact.

[applause]

I am not a fan of the current chairman allowing that Federal Reserve to be used to cover up bad fiscal policy by this administration. And that, I will suggest to you, is what we have seen.

It is a travesty that young people in America are seeing their dollars devalued in what — we don’t know if it was political or not because of the transparency issue. But I stand by this, that we need to have a Fed that is working towards sound monetary policy, that creates a strong dollar in America, and we do not have that today.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney, is there anything you disagree with — with — with Governor Perry on that point?

ROMNEY: Well, my own view is that, quite simply, that the Federal Reserve has a responsibility to preserve the value of our currency, to have a strong American currency, such that investors and people who are thinking about bringing enterprises to this country have confidence in the future of America and in our currency. People will not invest in this country and create jobs in this country for the American people if they don’t have belief in our currency.

Of course we should see what the Fed is doing. There should be some oversight to make sure that it’s — it’s acting properly.

But at the same time, we recognize that we need to have a Fed. Why — why do I say that? Because if we don’t have a Fed, who’s going to run the currency? Congress? I’m not in favor of that. I’d rather have an agency that is being overseen rather than have the United States Congress try and manage our currency.

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take another question from the hall. Go ahead. And please identify yourself.

QUESTION: Hi. My name is Tyler Hensley (ph). I’m from Napa, California. My — well, first of all, thank you guys for coming out tonight. My question is, out of every dollar that I earn, how much do you think that I deserve to keep?

BACHMANN: Oh, I love that question. I love that question.

[applause] [crosstalk]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: Well, I’ve come out with a tax program that basically simplifies, lowers, flattens the rate, why? Because I did it as governor in the state of Utah; I believe that that experience means something.

And I look at people who are earning, you in the workplace, trying to make ends meet. You ought to be given a competitive tax code. We need to clear out the cobwebs. We need to clear out the deductions, the loopholes, the corporate welfare, and all the subsidies. And for you, you know, we leave it at 8 percent, 14 percent, 24 percent. Those are the three rates that I think would work on the individual income side. On the corporate side, I think we recognize the reality that a whole lot of companies can afford to have lobbyists and lawyers on Capitol Hill working their magic. Let’s recognize the reality that they’re all paying 35 percent. We need to lower that to 25 percent. So let’s phase out the corporate subsidies and clean out the cobwebs and leave it more competitive for the 21st century.

I can tell you, by doing that with our tax code — and I know, because we did it in a state that took us to the number-one job creator in this country — it will leave you and your generation a whole lot better off.

But the thing that you all need to be worried about is the debt that is coming your way, because we have a cancer that is eating away at the core of this country called debt. And it’s going to eat — eat — eat alive this country until your generation gets active in the 2012 election cycle and finds a leader who can address debt and growth.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

Speaker Gingrich, some of the biggest companies in the United States, the oil companies, they got — I guess some would call government handouts in the form of tax breaks, tax exemptions, loopholes. They’re making billions and billions of dollars. Is that fair?

GINGRICH: You know, I thought for a second, you were going to refer to General Electric, which has paid no taxes.

[applause]

You know, I — I was — I was astonished the other night to have the president there in the joint session with the head of G.E. 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…

[applause]

… that everything he wants — everything General Electric is doing is a loophole? Now, why did we get to breaks for ethanol, breaks for oil and gas, et cetera? We got to them because of this idea, which the young man just represented. If we make you — if we make it possible for you to keep more of your own money, you will do more of it.

We have a simple choice. We can depend on Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Venezuela, or we can encourage development in the United States of manufacturing, as Rick said. We can encourage development of oil and gas. We can do it by saying we’re going to let you keep more of your money if you create more of what we want. I’m for an energy- independent America, and that means I favor people who create energy.

[applause]

BLITZER: But I just want to follow up, Mr. Speaker. If you eliminate some of those loopholes, those exemptions, whether for ExxonMobil or G.E. or some other companies, there are those who argue that is, in effect, a tax increase and it would violate a pledge that so many Republicans have made not to raise taxes.

GINGRICH: Yes, a lot of people argue that. They’re — they’re technically right, which is why I’m — look, I’m cheerfully opposed to raising taxes. This government — we have a problem of overspending. We don’t have a problem of undertaxing.

And I think that it would be good for us to say, we’re not going to raise any — which is why I’m also in favor of keeping the current tax cut for people who are working on Social Security and Medicare. I think trying to raise the tax on working Americans in the middle of the Obama depression is a destructive policy. So I don’t want to have any tax increase at any level for anyone. I want to shrink government to fit income, not raise income to try to catch up with government.

BLITZER: All right, let’s go to Cincinnati.

[applause]

We’ve got a question from Cincinnati. Go ahead.

QUESTION: Hello. My question is, would any of you be willing to support the fair tax?

BLITZER: Governor Romney? A fair tax basically is a national sales tax.

ROMNEY: Yeah. Yeah. The — the idea of a national sales tax or a consumption tax has a lot to go for it. One, it would make us more competitive globally, as we send products around the world, because under the provisions of the World Trade Organization, you can reimburse that to an exporter. We can’t reimburse our taxes right now. It also would level the playing field in the country, making sure everybody is paying some part of their fair share. But the way the fair tax has been structured, it has a real problem and that is it lowers the burden on the very highest income folks and the very lowest and raises it on middle income people. And the people who have been hurt most by the Obama-economy are the middle class.

And so my plan is to take the middle class individuals and dramatically reduce their taxes by the following measure. And that is for middle income Americans, no tax on interest, dividends or capital gains. Let people save their money as the way they think is best for them, for their kids, for their future, for their retirement. We’re taxing too much, we’re spending too much and middle income Americans need a break and I’ll give it to them.

BLITZER: All right. We have another question from Portsmouth, Virginia. Go ahead.

QUESTION: My name is Linda Gunn (ph). I’m from Portsmouth, Virginia. I’m part of the Virginia Taxpayers Alliance. My question has to do with executive orders, under what circumstances should a president sign an executive order? And how frequently should such an order be signed?

BLITZER: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: The executive orders have been grossly abused by all administrations for a lot of years. If you can’t — some executive orders are legal. When the president executes proper function of the presidency like moving troops and other things, yes, it’s done with an executive order. But the executive order should never be used to legislate. That is what is so bad.

So the executive order should be taken under control. And I have made a promise that as president I would never use the executive order to legislate.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, as you well know, you signed an executive order requiring little girls 11 and 12-year-old girls to get a vaccine to deal with a sexually transmitted disease that could lead to cervical cancer. Was that a mistake?

PERRY: It was. And indeed, if I had it to do over again, I would have done it differently. I would have gone to the legislature, worked with them. But what was driving me was, obviously, making a difference about young people’s lives.

Cervical cancer is a horrible way to die. And I happen to think that what we were trying to do was to clearly send a message that we’re going to give moms and dads the opportunity to make that decision with parental opt-out.

Parental rights are very important in state of Texas. We do it on a long list of vaccines that are made, but on that particular issue, I will tell you that I made a mistake by not going to the legislature first. Let me address Ron Paul just a minute by saying I will use an executive order to get rid of as much of Obamacare as I can on day one.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, do you have anything to say about what Governor Perry just said. You’re a mom.

BACHMANN: I’m a mom. And I’m a mom of three children. And 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. It’s a violation of a liberty interest.

That’s — little girls who have a negative reaction to this potentially dangerous drug don’t get a mulligan. They don’t get a do- over. The parents don’t get a do-over. That’s why I fought so hard in Washington, D.C., against President Obama and Obamacare.

President Obama in a stunning, shocking level of power now just recently told all private insurance companies, you must offer the morning-after abortion pill, because I said so. And it must be free of charge. That same level coming through executive orders and through government dictates is wrong. And that’s why again we have to have someone who is absolutely committed to the repeal of Obamacare and I am. I won’t rest until it’s appealed.

BLITZER: Let’s let Governor Perry respond. Was what you signed into law, that vaccine for 11 and 12-year-old girls, was that,as some of your critics have suggested, a mandate?

PERRY: No, sir it wasn’t. It was very clear. It had an opt- out. And at the end of the day, this was about trying to stop a cancer and giving the parental option to opt out of that. And at the end of the day, you may criticize me about the way that I went about it, but at the end of the day, I am always going to err on the side of life. And that’s what this was really all about for me.

BLITZER: Senator Santorum — go ahead.

BACHMANN: Can i ad to that, Wolf? Can I add to that?

[crosstalk]

BLITZER: Hold on a second. First Congresswoman Bachmann, then Senator Santorum.

BACHMANN: I just wanted to add that we cannot forget that in the midst of this executive order there is a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate. We can’t deny that…

[applause]

BLITZER: What are you suggesting?

BACHMANN: 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?

BLITZER: All right. I’ll let Senator Santorum hold off for a second.

You’ve got to response to that.

PERRY: Yes, sir. The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you’re saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.

[applause]

BACHMANN: Well, I’m offended for all the little girls and the parents that didn’t have a choice. That’s what I’m offended for.

[applause]

SANTORUM: I think we need to hear what Governor Perry’s saying. He’s saying that his policy was right. He believes that what he did was right. He thinks he went about it the wrong way.

I believe your policy is wrong. Why — ladies and gentlemen, why do we inoculate people with vaccines in public schools? Because we’re afraid of those diseases being communicable between people at school. And therefore, to protect the rest of the people at school, we have vaccinations to protect those children.

Unless Texas has a very progressive way of communicating diseases in their school by way of their curriculum, then there is no government purpose served for having little girls inoculated at the force and compulsion of the government. This is big government run amok. It is bad policy, and it should not have been done.

[applause]

BLITZER: I’m going to move on, Governor Perry, unless you want to say anything else.

PERRY: Look, I think we made decisions in Texas. We put a $3 billion effort in to find the cure for cancer. There are a lot of different cancers out there. Texas, I think, day in and day out, is a place that protects life.

I passed parental notification piece of legislation. I’ve been the most pro-life governor in the state of Texas. And what we were all about was trying to save young people’s lives in Texas.

SANTORUM: Then give the parents the opt-in, as opposed to — teach them, let them opt in, but do not force them to have this inoculation.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right. Let’s take a question from the audience.

Give us your name please.

QUESTION: I’m Caroline Taylor. I’m from Orange Park, Florida, with the Peoples Tea Party.

My question is, health insurance is expensive because health care is expensive. What is your plan to reduce the cost of health care so that our insurance premiums and other related costs can also be reduced?

BLITZER: All right.

Mr. Cain?

CAIN: First, repeal Obamacare in its entirety.

[applause]

SANTORUM: Amen.

CAIN: Secondly, pass market-driven, patient-centered reforms such as, under the current code, deductibility of health insurance premiums regardless of who pays for it. But as you know, I want to throw that out and put in my 999 plan. Secondly, the other thing that we can do in order to help bring down the costs is pass loser pay laws. Doctors will tell you that one of their biggest expenses is medical liability insurance because of frivolous lawsuits.

Secondly, restructure Medicare, another big cost that’s passed on to us as consumers related to all the bureaucracy associated with that.

Another market-driven idea, allow association health plans. When I ran the National Restaurant Association, which today has 14 million employees, we wanted to design a system for health insurance that was going to be customized for our industry. We could not do that. We need to be allowed to do that, and so should other organizations and other associations.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you, Mr. Cain.

Governor Romney, a lot of the Tea Party supporters here and around the country have a real serious problem with the health care mandate that you got through in Massachusetts. Is there anything you want to say to them to revise or amend? Do you stand by what you did?

ROMNEY: Absolutely. And let me come back and just mention something that — Herman Cain is right, and let’s get back to getting the cost of health care down. I happen to think that’s an enormous issue. And I agree with almost everything you said, Herman, but the reason health care is so expensive, I think you hit the nail on head. You said it’s not just because of insurance, it’s because of the cost of providing care. And one reason for that is the person who receives care in America generally doesn’t care how much it costs, because once they’ve paid their deductible, it’s free. And the provider, the more they do, the more they get paid.

We have something that’s not working like a market. It’s working like a government utility. And so what we have to do is make sure that individuals have a concern and care about how much something costs. And for that to happen, health savings accounts.

Give people a stake in what the cost of insurance is going to be, what the cost of it is going to be. Co-insurance, where people pay a share of the bill, that makes a difference.

And with regards to Massachusetts care, I’m not running for governor. I’m running for president. And if I’m president, on day one I’ll direct the secretary of Health and Human Services to grant a waiver from Obamacare to all 50 states.

It’s a problem that’s bad law, it’s not constitutional. I’ll get rid of it.

[applause]

BLITZER: All right.

Governor Perry, you’re a firm believer in states’ rights. Can a state like Massachusetts go ahead and pass health care reform, including mandates? Is that a good idea, if Massachusetts wants to do it?

PERRY: Well, that’s what Governor Romney wanted to do, so that’s fine. But the fact of the matter is, that was the plan that President Obama has said himself was the model for Obamacare. And I think any of us who know that that piece of legislation will draw a line between the doctor/patient relationship, that will cost untold billions of dollars, is not right for this country. And frankly, I don’t think it was right for Massachusetts when you look at what it’s costing the people of Massachusetts today. But at the end of the day, that was their call.

So, from a just purely states get to decide what they want to do, I agree with that. And in the state of Texas, we don’t think that’s the way we want to go.

BLITZER: All right.

BACHMANN: Wolf, can I —

BLITZER: I’m going to let you respond, but I want Governor Romney to respond first.

ROMNEY: First, I’d be careful about trusting what President Obama says as to what the source was of his plan, number one. But number two, if you think what we did in Massachusetts and what President Obama did are the same, boy, take a closer look, because, number one, he raised taxes $500 billion, and helped slow down the U.S. economy by doing it. We didn’t raise taxes.

He cut Medicare by $500 billion. This is a Democrat president. The liberal, so to speak, cut Medicare. Not Republicans, the Democrat.

We dealt with the people in our state that were uninsured, some nine percent. His bill deals with 100 percent of the people.

He puts in place a panel that ultimately is going to tell people what kind of care they’re going to have. We didn’t do anything like that.

What the president did was simply wrong. It is the wrong course for America. It is not what we did in Massachusetts.

The people of Massachusetts favored our plan by three to one. And states can make their own choices. I’m happy to stand up for what he did. But I’ll tell you one thing, what he did is wrong for America, and I’ll stop it.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor. Before I get to Michele Bachmann, I want to just — you’re a physician, Ron Paul, so you’re a doctor. You know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question.

A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides, you know what? I’m not going to spend $200 or $300 a month for health insurance because I’m healthy, I don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it.

Who’s going to pay if he goes into a coma, for example? Who pays for that?

PAUL: Well, in a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

BLITZER: Well, what do you want?

PAUL: But what he should do is whatever he wants to do, and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major medical policy, but not be forced —

BLITZER: But he doesn’t have that. He doesn’t have it, and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

PAUL: That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody —

[applause]

BLITZER: But Congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

PAUL: No. I practiced medicine before we had Medicaid, in the early 1960s, when I got out of medical school. I practiced at Santa Rosa Hospital in San Antonio, and the churches took care of them. We never turned anybody away from the hospitals.

[applause]

PAUL: And we’ve given up on this whole concept that we might take care of ourselves and assume responsibility for ourselves. Our neighbors, our friends, our churches would do it. This whole idea, that’s the reason the cost is so high.

The cost is so high because they dump it on the government, it becomes a bureaucracy. It becomes special interests. It kowtows to the insurance companies and the drug companies, and then on top of that, you have the inflation. The inflation devalues the dollar, we have lack of competition.

PAUL: There’s no competition in medicine. Everybody is protected by licensing. And we should actually legalize alternative health care, allow people to practice what they want.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congresswoman Bachmann, go ahead and weigh in on this hypothetical 30-year-old who needs six months of intensive care, has no insurance.

BACHMANN: Well, first of all, what I want to say, with all due respect to the governors, I’ve read this health care bill, I’ve been fighting this fight the last couple of years.

BLITZER: Which health care bill?

BACHMANN: President Obama’s Obamacare bill. And waivers and executive orders won’t cut it. If you could solve Obamacare with an executive order, any president could do it and any president could undo it. That’s not — not how it can be done.

Plus, no state has the constitutional right to force a person as a condition of citizenship to buy a product or service against their will. It’s unconstitutional…

[applause]

… whether it’s the state government or whether it’s the federal government. The only way to eradicate Obamacare is to pull it out by the root and branch to fully repeal it. It’s the only way we’re going to get rid of it.

And this is why I’m running for the presidency of the United States, because 2012 is it. This is the election that’s going to decide if we have socialized medicine in this country or not. This is it.

Why? I just have to say this. It’s because President Obama embedded $105,464,000,000 in Obamacare in post-dated checks to implement this bill. We are never going to get rid of it unless we have a president committed to getting rid of it. And if you believe that states can have it and that it’s constitutional, you’re not committed. If you’ve implemented this in your state, you’re not committed. I’m committed to repealing Obamacare.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thank you.

There is much, much more in this Republican presidential debate, the CNN Tea Party debate. Stand by. We’re taking another quick break. When we come back, national security, immigration, and a lot more. We’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: I’m Wolf Blitzer in Tampa at the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. Thousands of you are watching and commenting online on Twitter, Facebook, and cnn.com. We’ve seen the candidates strongly disagree on several issues already. When we come back, three especially bitter divides: the staggering cost of the war in Afghanistan; how to stop Iran from building a nuclear weapon; and illegal immigration. We’ll be right back.

[applause]

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN Tea Party Republican presidential debate. We’re here in Tampa. But we’re taking questions from across the country.

Let’s go to Cincinnati. Please identify yourself and ask the question.

QUESTION: Yes, what — what would you do — what would you do to remove the illegal immigrants from our country?

[applause]

BLITZER: Senator Santorum, maybe 11 million, 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States. What would you do?

SANTORUM: I’ve said this from the very beginning. What — I’m the son of an Italian immigrant. I believe in immigration. I believe that immigration is an important part of the lifeblood of this country.

But what we have is a problem of an unsecure border. Unlike Governor Perry, I believe we need to build more fence. I need — I believe that we need to secure the border using technology and more personnel. And until we build that border, we should neither have storm troopers come in and throw people out of the country nor should we provide amnesty.

What we should do is enforce the laws in this country with respect to employers, and we should secure the border. And then after the border is secured, then we can deal with the problem that are in this country. But I — I think it’s very important that we understand and we explain to folks that immigration is an important lifeblood of this country, something that I strongly support and something that we have to do legally if we’re going to have — have respect for the law.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, he mentioned you, so go ahead.

PERRY: Yes, sir. There’s not anybody on this stage that’s had to deal with the issue of border security more than I have, with 1,200 miles of — of Texas and Mexico. And our federal government has been an abject failure at securing our border.

[applause]

We’ve had to spend some $400 million of Texas taxpayer dollars to send Texas Ranger recon teams down there. Strategic fencing in the metropolitan areas absolutely has a role to play.

But the idea that you’re going to build a wall from Brownsville to El Paso and go left for another 800 miles to Tijuana is just not reality. What you have to have is boots on the ground. You’ve got to have 450 Border Patrol agents trained up, 1,500 National Guard troops. You’ve got to have the aviation assets in the air putting real-time information down to the law enforcement.

We understand and know how to secure that border, but we can’t do it alone. And the federal government has to step up and do what their constitutional duty is, and that is to secure the border with Mexico.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me just take this quick question from Twitter, and then I want to stay on this subject. What are the candidates doing to attract the Latino voters? Go ahead, Senator Santorum.

SANTORUM: Well, I mean, what Governor Perry’s done is he provided in-state tuition for — for illegal immigrants. Maybe that was an attempt to attract the illegal vote — I mean, the Latino voters.

But you track Latino voters by talking about the importance of immigration in this country. You talk about the importance of — as — as Newt has talked about for many years, having English as the — as the official language of this country.

[applause]

And I say that…

[applause]

I say that as, again, my — my father and grandfather came to this country not speaking a word of English, but it was the greatest gift to my father to have to learn English so he could assimilate into this society.

We’re a melting pot, not a salad bowl. And we need to continue that tradition.

BLITZER: Governor Perry, I’m going to move on to Governor Huntsman in a second, but you did sign legislation giving some illegal immigrants in Texas the opportunity to have in-state tuition at universities in Texas, explain what that…

PERRY: In the state of Texas, if you’ve been in the state of Texas for three years, if you’re working towards your college degree, and if you are working and pursuing citizenship in the state of Texas, you pay in-state tuition there.

And the bottom line is it doesn’t make any difference what the sound of your last name is. That is the American way. No matter how you got into that state, from the standpoint of your parents brought you there or what have you. And that’s what we’ve done in the state of Texas. And I’m proud that we are having those individuals be contributing members of our society rather than telling them, you go be on the government dole.

BLITZER: You heard some boos there. But go ahead, Congresswoman Bachmann, is that basically the DREAM Act that President Obama wants as well?

BACHMANN: Yes, it’s very similar. And I think that the American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who have broken our laws or who are here in the United States illegally. That is not the American way. Because the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s when liberal members of Congress changed the immigration laws.

What works is to have people come into the United States with a little bit of money in their pocket legally with sponsors so that if anything happens to them, they don’t fall back on the taxpayers to take care of them. And then they also have to agree to learn the speak the English language, learn American history and our constitution. That’s the American way.

BLITZER: I’m going to bring Governor Huntsman here. But go ahead, Governor Perry.

PERRY: I’m not for the DREAM Act that they are talking about in Washington D.C. that is amnesty. What we did in the state of Texas was clearly a states right issue. And the legislature passed with only four dissenting votes in the House and the Senate to allow this to occur.

We were clearly sending a message to young people, regardless of what the sound of their last name is, that we believe in you. That if you want to live in the state of Texas and you want to pursue citizenship, that we’re going to allow you the opportunity to be contributing members in the state of Texas and not be a drag on our state.

BLITZER: Hold on a second, Governor Huntsman, you also signed legislation in Utah that gave driving privileges to illegal immigrants. Was that a good idea?

HUNTSMAN: Well, first of all, let me say for Rick to say that you can’t secure the border I think is pretty much a treasonous comment.

MALE: I didn’t hear that.

HUNTSMAN: Rick, we can secure the border. We can secure the border through means of fences, through technology, through the deployment of our National Guard troops, we can get it done. In fact, when the elected president of the United States, I would work with you and the other three border governors to ensure that through your law enforcement officials you can verify that that border is secure.

But I will tell you before Wolf here directs a question, they were given a driver’s license before and they were using that for identification purposes. And I thought that was wrong. Instead we issued a driver privilege card, which in our state allowed our economy to continue to function. And it said in very bold letters, not to be used for identification purposes. It was a pragmatic local government driven fix and it proved that the tenth amendment works.

We believe in local fixes and solutions.

BLITZER: All right. Governor Romney, do you have a problem with either what Governor Huntsman did in Utah or Governor Perry did in Texas?

ROMNEY: yeah with both, actually. The question began by saying how do we attract Latino voters. And the answer is by telling them what they know in their heart, which is they or their ancestors did not come here for a handout. If they came here for a handout, they’d be voting for Democrats. They came here for opportunity and freedom. And that’s what we represent. And that’s why we’ll win collecting support from Latinos across the country.

With regards to illegal immigration, of course we build a fence and of course we do not give instate tuition credits to people who come here illegally. That only attracts people to come here and take advantage of America’s great beneficence.

And with regards to giving driver’s licenses to people that are here illegally, that creates a patina of legal status. There are sanctuary cities in some parts of the country.

One of the things I did in my state was to say, look, I’m going to get my state police authorized to be able to enforce immigration laws and make sure those people who we arrest are put in jail, to find out they’re here illegally, we’re going to get them out of here.

We have to recognize that this is the party that believes in supporting the law. We’re going to enforce the law. We’re the party of opportunity, we’re also the party of legal law abiding citizens. And that’s something we’re going to attract people of all backgrounds.

PERRY: As I said it earlier, we basically had a decision to make. Are we going to give people an incentive to be contributing members of this society or are we going to tell them no, we’re going to put you on the government dole? In the state of Texas, and this is a states right issue, if in Massachusetts you didn’t want to do that or Utah you didn’t want to do this, that’s fine. But in the state of Texas where Mexico has a clear and a long relationship with this state, we decided it was in the best interest of those young people to give them the opportunity to go on to college and to have the opportunity. They’re pursuing citizenship in this country rather than saying, you know, we’re going to put you over here and put you on the government dole for the rest of your life. We don’t think that was the right thing to do. And it’s working. And it’s working well in the state of Texas.

BLITZER: I know you want to respond, too, because he said that what you did in Utah was a mistake giving driving privileges to illegal immigrants.

HUNTSMAN: I think we can spend all night talking about where Mitt’s been on all the issues of the day. And that would take forever. But let me just say that all the Latino voters, Hispanic voters want is opportunity, can we say that? The greatest thing that we can do for the people in this country is — on illegal immigration is fix homeland security.

I mean, when are we going to have an honest conversation in this country about the root causes. We can’t process people. The H1B visa process is broken. We need to bring in brain power to this country to shore up our economic might. We need to bring in foreign capital to raise real estate prices as well.

We need a fixed Department of Homeland Security.

BLITZER: Thank you, governor.

All right. Let’s take a question from Phoenix. Go ahead, Phoenix. Give us your name.

[applause]

QUESTION: The United States has an abundance of coal, oil, natural gas and uranium. The American people have been told for decades that energy independence is a top priority. What will you do in your first 100 days in office to assure the American people that energy independence will finally become reality.

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: The first thing that I would do in order to assure that we get on the road to energy independence, and I do believe that we can because we do have the natural resources to do so, we’ve got to remove some of those barriers out of the way that are being created by the federal government. I would start with an EPA that’s gone wild. That’s where we start.

I would put together a regulatory reduction commission for every agency starting with the EPA. This regulatory reduction commission — one of my guiding principles is if you want to solve a problem go to the source closest to the problem. So the people that I would appoint to that commission will be people who have been abused by the EPA. That would be the commission that would straighten out the regulatory burden.

BLITZER: Let’s take a question from Twitter. Do you plan to decrease defense spending to balance spending? Or do you believe high spending is essential to security? Speaker Gingrinch?

GINGRICH: I think we are at the edge of an enormous crisis in national security. I think that we are greatly underestimating the threat to this country. And I think that the day after we celebrated the 10th anniversary of 9/11 we should be reminded exactly what is at stake if a foreign terrorist gets a nuclear weapon into this country.

We have failed for a decade to deal with North Korea. We have failed for a decade to deal with Iran. The developments in Egypt and Turkey are much more dangerous than anybody is looking at in this country. And I think we need, frankly, to ask for a very serious national dialogue.

I’d like to see both the House and Senate right now holding hearings on three levels of security. What do you do in Mexico where there’s a civil war underway next door to us? What do you do in the Middle East where we have totally underestimated the scale of the threat? And what do you do about our national domestic industrial base which is crucial if we’re going to be competitive with China?

All three of those are a major threat to us.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul.

[applause]

PAUL: First thing I would like to do is make sure that you understand there’s a difference between military spending and defense spending. I’m tired of all the militarism that we are involved in. And we’re wasting this money in getting us involved. And I agree, we are still in danger, but most of the danger comes by our lack of wisdom on how we run our foreign policy.

So I would say there’s a lot of room to cut on the military, but not on the defense. You can slash the military spending. We don’t need to be building airplanes that were used in World War II — we’re always fighting the last war.

But we’re under great threat, because we occupy so many countries.

We’re in 130 countries. We have 900 bases around the world. We’re going broke.

The purpose of al Qaeda was to attack us, invite us over there, where they can target us. And they have been doing it. They have more attacks against us and the American interests per month than occurred in all the years before 9/11, but we’re there occupying their land. And if we think that we can do that and not have retaliation, we’re kidding ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves. What would we do if another country, say, China, did to us what we do to all those countries over there?

[applause]

PAUL: So I would say a policy — a foreign policy that takes care of our national defense, that we’re willing to get along with people and trade with people, as the founders advised, there’s no authority in the Constitution to be the policeman of the world, and no nation-building. Just remember, George Bush won the presidency on that platform in the year 2000. And I still think it’s a good platform.

BLITZER: All right.

[applause]

BLITZER: Let me let Senator Santorum respond, because I know you strongly disagree.

SANTORUM: On your Web site on 9/11, you had a blog post that basically blamed the United States for 9/11. On your Web site, yesterday, you said that it was our actions that brought about the actions of 9/11.

Now, Congressman Paul, that is irresponsible. The president of the United States — someone who is running for the president of the United States in the Republican Party should not be parroting what Osama bin Laden said on 9/11.

[applause]

SANTORUM: We should have — we are not being attacked and we were not attacked because of our actions. We were attacked, as Newt talked about, because we have a civilization that is antithetical to the civilization of the jihadists. And they want to kill us because of who we are and what we stand for. And we stand for American exceptionalism, we stand for freedom and opportunity for everybody around the world, and I am not ashamed to do that.

[applause]

BLITZER: Thirty second, Mr. Paul.

PAUL: As long as this country follows that idea, we’re going to be under a lot of danger. This whole idea that the whole Muslim world is responsible for this, and they’re attacking us because we’re free and prosperous, that is just not true.

Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda have been explicit — they have been explicit, and they wrote and said that we attacked America because you had bases on our holy land in Saudi Arabia, you do not give Palestinians fair treatment, and you have been bombing —

[booing]

PAUL: I didn’t say that. I’m trying to get you to understand what the motive was behind the bombing, at the same time we had been bombing and killing hundreds of thousands of Iraqis for 10 years.

Would you be annoyed? If you’re not annoyed, then there’s some problem.

BLITZER: Thank you, Congressman.

All right. We’re going to say on this subject. We have a question from the audience.

Go ahead. Please identify yourself.

SAHAR HEKMATI, TEA PARTY EXPRESS: Hi. My name is Sahar Hekmati. I was brought here from Ronald Reagan. I am from Afghanistan. And my question to you is, as the next president of the United States, what will you do to secure safety and protection for the women and the children of Afghanistan from the radicals?

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: We are 10 years into this war, Sahar. America has given its all in Afghanistan.

We have families who have given the ultimate sacrifice. And it’s to them that we offer our heartfelt salute and a deep sense of gratitude. But the time has come for us to get out of Afghanistan.

[applause]

HUNTSMAN: We don’t need 100,000 troops in Afghanistan nation- building at a time when this nation needs to be built. We are of no value to the rest of the world if our core is crumbling, which it is in this country.

I like those days when Ronald Reagan — you talked about — when Ronald Reagan would ensure that the light of this country would shine brightly for liberty, democracy, human rights, and free markets. We’re not shining like we used to shine. We need to shine again.

And I’m here to tell you, Sahar, when we start shining again, it’s going to help the women of Afghanistan, along with any other NGO work that can be done there and the collaborative efforts of great volunteer efforts here in the United States. We can get it done, but we have to make sure that the Afghan people increasingly take responsibility for their security going forward.

[applause]

BLITZER: Very quickly, to Governor Perry, $2 billion a week, is that money well spent by U.S. taxpayers in Afghanistan?

PERRY: Well, I agree with Governor Huntsman when we talk about it’s time to bring our young men and women home and as soon and obviously as safely as we can. But it’s also really important for us to continue to have a presence there. And 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.

BLITZER: Thank you, Governor.

All right. We’re going to take another quick break.

When we come back, here’s what we’re going to do. You’re going to get to know these candidates a little bit better. When we come back, what would they add to the White House if they were to move in?

We’ll be right back.

[commercial break]

BLITZER: Eight Republican presidential candidates on the stage.

You know, Americans are looking at you. They also want to know a little bit more about you.

I’m going to start with Senator Santorum. I want to go down and get your thoughts on something you would bring to the White House if you were the next president of the United States.

An example, President George H. W. Bush put in a horseshoe pit. President Clinton put in a jogging track. President Obama added a vegetable garden.

Senator Santorum, if you’re president, what would you bring to the White House?

SANTORUM: Well, mine is pretty obvious. Karen and I have seven children, so we’d add a bedroom or — and some beds to the White House.

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: Well, first of all, I would reduce the White House by kicking out all the White House czars the first day, creating a lot more space.

[applause]

And then, because of Callista’s interest, we’d have a lot more music, because of my granddaughter, Maggie, we’d have ballet, and because of my grandson, Robert, we’d have a very large chess set. So it’ll all come together.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul?

PAUL: I’d bring a bushel basket full of common sense. And I would also bring a course in Austrian economics to teach the people…

[applause]

… the business cycle and why the Fed creates inflation and depressions and all our unemployment problems.

BLITZER: Governor Perry?

PERRY: It’s simple. I’m going to bring the most beautiful, most thoughtful, incredible first lady that this country’s ever seen, Anita.

[applause]

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: You know, one of — one of my heroes was a man who had an extraordinary turn of phrase. He once said about us, he said, you know, you can count on the Americans to get things right after they’ve exhausted all the alternatives. And now and then we’ve made a couple of mistakes. We’re quite a nation. And this man, Winston Churchill, used to have his bust in the Oval Office. And if I’m president of the United States, it’ll be there again.

[applause]

BLITZER: Congressman Bachmann?

BACHMANN: I would bring a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, the Bill of Rights, and that’s it.

[applause]

BLITZER: Mr. Cain?

CAIN: I would bring a sense of humor to the White House, because America’s too uptight.

[laughter]

[applause]

BLITZER: And Governor Huntsman?

HUNTSMAN: And to play to that theme — my wife’s going to kill me for saying this — but I would bring my — as a 40-year motorcycle rider, I would bring my Harley-Davidson and my motocross bike.

BLITZER: Ladies and gentlemen, the eight Republican presidential candidates.

[applause] And that’s all the time we have. Ladies and gentlemen, please give a hand to our candidates for the Republican nomination for president of the United States.

[applause]

We want to thank our partners, the Tea Party Express, and 150 Tea Party groups from around the country. Thanks also to our host, the Florida State Fairgrounds. Our next debate here on CNN, in Las Vegas, October 18th with the Western Republican Leadership Conference. We look forward to seeing the candidates and all of you there. The conversation continues online right now on Twitter, Facebook, and cnnpolitics.com. More coverage of this debate with “Anderson Cooper 360” right now