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GOP hopefuls discuss economy, student debt

Paul Sancya/AP
Republican presidential candidates former Penn. Sen. Rick Santorum, left, Rep. Michele Bachmann, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, businessman Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Rep. Ron Paul and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, before a debate at Oakland University on Wednesday, Nov. 9. Buy this photo

By Haley Glatthorn, Daily Staff Reporter
Published November 10, 2011

ROCHESTER, Mich. — Slated to focus on economic issues, the Republican presidential primary debate last night encompassed a wide range of topics including international affairs, health care and the federal student loan program.

The debate, held at Oakland University, featured GOP candidates former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R–Minn.), former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, Herman Cain, Texas Gov. Rick Perry, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul (R–Texas) and U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum (R–Penn.).

When answering the debate’s opening question, all the candidates hesitated to promote financial support for Europe’s struggling economy. Cain and Romney expressed a desire to focus on supporting the domestic economy over offering international economic aid. Romney discussed his seemingly two-sided record of favoring a bailout for the Detroit auto industry in 2008 and then later retracting his support.

“I care about this state and about auto industry like — I guess like no one else on this stage,” Romney said. “My view with regards to the bailout was that whether it was by President Bush or by President Obama, it was the wrong way to go. I said from the very beginning they should go through a managed bankruptcy process, a private bankruptcy process.”

The candidates moved on to discuss tax plans and government regulation, during which Cain’s famous 9-9-9 plan took center stage. The sexual harassment allegations against Cain were mentioned briefly and quickly dismissed when Cain said they were “unfounded accusations.”

“I value my character and my integrity more than anything else,” Cain said. “And for every one person that comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably … thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain.”

The candidates’ initiatives to cut government spending and restructure the tax system were met with applause and enthusiasm from the audience, particularly when Paul announced his desire to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget during his first year in office. The candidates frequently reiterated their support of businesses and the importance of a free market system.

“The right thing for America is to have profitable enterprises that can hire people,” Romney said. “I want to make American businesses successful and thrive. What we have in Washington today is a president and an administration that doesn't like business, that somehow thinks they want jobs, but they don't like businesses.”

The topic of economics based on laissez-faire principles continued as the debate shifted into the health care sector. Each candidate expressed their opposition to Obama’s health care law and said they would act to repeal it upon entering office.

The candidates disagreed, however, on the issue of the costly federal student loan program. Paul announced his desire to cut the program entirely in addition to eliminating the Department of Education to make education more cost effective and beneficial for students.

“So when the government gets involved in the delivery of any service — whether it's education, medical care, or housing — they cause higher prices, lower quality, create bubbles and they give us this mess that we're in,” Paul said.

Gingrich pointed to the College of the Ozarks in Oliver Township, Mo. — that uses a work-study program in which students work 20 hours each week in exchange for a free education — as an example of an ideally cheap and high quality approach to funding higher education. But he called the program so unusual that most young Americans would experience a “culture shock” if the system were changed.