DENVER – Those lamenting a lack of substance in the presidential campaign got their wishes fulfilled Wednesday night in the first debate between President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney.
Colorado’s first-ever presidential debate was filled with detailed policies from the two candidates on Wall Street reform, health care and an extended battle about each other’s tax plans.
Moderator Jim Lehrer repeatedly pressed the two to identify differences between each other’s platforms, and they obliged.
“Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes, skewed toward the wealthy, and roll back regulations, that we’ll be better off. I’ve got a different view,” Obama said. “I think we’ve got to invest in education and training.”
Romney replied with criticism of Obama’s record as president.
“The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more – if you will, trickle-down government – would work,” Romney said.
The debate happened on Obama’s 20th wedding anniversary, and it started on a lighthearted note, with Romney offering his congratulations and condolences.
“Congratulations, Mr. President, on your anniversary. I’m sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me,” Romney said.
But it quickly got deep into Washington debates and jargon, with many references to Bowles-Simpson (a debt-cutting idea) and Dodd-Frank (the Wall Street reform bill that Obama championed and Romney says he will repeal).
Romney said he would cut the debt by growing the economy and shrinking government.
“I will eliminate all programs by this test, if they don’t pass it: Is the program so critical it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’ll get rid of it. Obamacare’s on my list,” Romney said.
He also said he would eliminate the subsidy to the Public Broadcasting System and nodded to Lehrer, who works for PBS.
“I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too,” Romney said.
Obama said he would cut a $4 billion tax exemption for oil companies, but Romney defended the exemptions.
“It’s actually an accounting treatment that’s been in place for 100 years,” Romney said.
“It’s time to end it,” Obama interrupted.
Romney hit back by saying Obama pumped $90 billion into renewable-energy companies, some of which went bankrupt.
The first half of the 90-minute debate focused heavily on taxes, with Obama making frequent criticisms of Romney’s tax plan. In the end, Romney’s idea would mean a tax increase for the middle class, Obama said.
Romney disputed that and said he will not raise taxes or the deficit.
“My plan is not like anything that’s been tried before. My plan is to bring down rates, but also bring down deductions and exemptions and credits at the same time so the revenue stays in, but that we bring down rates to get more people working,” Romney said.
But Obama knocked Romney for not releasing details about his plans for taxes, as well as his plans for Wall Street reform or what he would do about health care once he repeals Obamacare.
“And at some point, I think the American people have to ask themselves, is the reason that Governor Romney is keeping all these plans to replace secret because they’re too good?” Obama said.
But that moment was one of the few where Obama pressed an attack on the Republican.
A CNN flash poll conducted minutes after the debate found 67 percent of respondents thought Romney won, and just 25 percent said Obama did.
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press
Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press