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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Part 1, 20:00-20:30, CNN ARIZONA REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Aired February 22, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Thank you.

Our thanks to the Arizona State University Symphonic Chorale. That was fabulous.

Gentlemen, I want to ask you to take your seats. I'll take a moment now to explain to you how our debate will work.

I'll question the candidates, as well as we'll also take some questions from members of our audience. I'll follow up and guide tonight's discussion.

Candidates, we're going to try to make sure each of you get your fair amount of questions. And you'll have a minute to answer and 30 seconds for rebuttal and follow-ups. And if you're singled out for a particular criticism, I'll make sure you get a chance to respond.

Now we're going to have each of the candidates introduce themselves. And so we have more time to debate tonight, we're going to ask them to keep it short.

Here's an example. I'm John King from CNN. I'm honored to be your moderator tonight and I'm thrilled to be in a state that reminds us baseball season is just around the corner.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Congressman Paul, we begin with you, sir.

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Congressman Ron Paul, a congressman from Texas.

I am the defender of the Constitution. I'm the champion of liberty. This shows the roadmap to peace and prosperity.

(APPLAUSE)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum.

And we have a lot of troubles around the world, as you see, the Middle East in flames, and what's going on in this country with gas prices and the economy. And I'm here to talk about a positive solutions that confront this country that include everybody from the bottom up.

(APPLAUSE)

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney.

And there was a time in this country when you knew that if you worked hard and went to school, and if you learned the values of America in your home, that you could count on having a secure future and a prosperous life. That was an American promise and it's been broken by this president.

I want to restore America's promise, and I'm going to do that --

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: That's good enough. As George Costanza would say, when they're applauding, stop. Right?

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Newt Gingrich.

And I've developed a program for American energy so no future president will ever bow to a Saudi king again and so every American can look forward to $2.50 a gallon gasoline.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Gentlemen, it's good to see you again.

Let's get started on the important issues with a question from our audience.

Sir, please tell us who you are and state your question.

(UNKNOWN): My name is Gilbert Fidler (ph) from Gilbert, Arizona, and I'd like to ask this question to all the candidates if I could.

Since the first time in 65 years our national debt exceeds our gross national product, what are you going to do to bring down the debt?

KING: Thank you, sir.

Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.

SANTORUM: Thank you, Gilbert.

I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years that I'll be president of the United States. So it's not inflation- adjusted, it's not baseline-budgeting. We're actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget, and we're going to do so by dealing with the real problem.

And here's where I differentiate myself from everybody else, including, obviously, the president. I actually have experience on tackling the toughest problems that we have in this country, and that's the growth of entitlement spending.

Obviously, the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That's the one entitlement that we can get rid of.

(APPLAUSE)

And that's a couple trillion dollars in spending over the next 10 years. But there's bigger issues.

When I was born, less than 10 percent of the federal budget was entitlement spending. It's now 60 percent of the budget.

Some people have suggested that defense spending is the problem. When I was born, defense spending was 60 percent of the budget. It's now 17 percent. If you think defense spending is the problem, then you need a remedial math class to go back to.

Defense spending will not be cut under my administration, but we will go after all of the means-tested entitlement programs -- Medicaid, food stamps, all of those programs -- and do what we did with welfare.

We cut the welfare -- we cut spending on welfare, froze it and then we block granted it to the states and gave them the flexibility to run that program they way they saw fit with two provisos. Number one, there would be a time limit on welfare and a work requirement. We were going to say that poverty is not a disability. That these programs need to be transitional in nature. We need to do the same thing with Medicaid. We need to do the same thing with -- with food stamps. All of the other means tests of entitlement programs.

And unlike the Paul Ryan plan -- I see I'm out of time, but unlike the Paul Ryan plan, we also will deal with Medicare and Social Security, not 10 years from now. But we need to start dealing with it now because our country is facing fiscal bankruptcy.

KING: Governor Romney, I'm wondering if that answer satisfied you? Just in recent days you said this, quote, "If you want a fiscal conservative, you can't vote for Rick Santorum because he's not." Did he answer your questions there?

ROMNEY: Well I'm looking at his historic record, which voting for raising the debt ceiling five different times without voting for compensating cuts. Voting to keep in place Davis-Bacon, which cost about $100 billion over -- over 10 years. A whole series of votes. Voting to fund Planned Parenthood, to expand the Department of Education. During his term in the Senate, spending grew by some 80 percent of the federal government. But I -- but I want to respond to Gilbert's question, which I think is a critical one.

And that is as you -- as you look at this country, I'm a guy who has lived in the world of business. If you don't balance your budget in business, you go out of business. So I've lived balancing budgets. I also served in the Olympics, balanced a budget there. And -- and served in the states. And all four years I was governor, we balanced the budget. Here's what I'd do at the federal level, I would divide all of the programs into three major places for opportunity to reduce costs.

Number one, I'm going to go through every single program and ask if we can afford it. And if not, I'm going to say, is this program so critical that it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'm going to get rid of it. Number two, I'm going to take programs...

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: ...I'm going to take programs that are important, but that could be better run at the state level and send them back to the states as a block grant and that included Medicaid and -- and housing vouchers and food stamps. These programs for the poor, to be run more efficiently and can be run with less fraud and abuse at the state level. And then finally number three, with what's left of government, I'm going to cut the employment by 10 percent. And I'm going to link the pay of government workers with the pay in the private sector. Government servants shouldn't get paid more than the people who are paying taxes.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator, the governor singled you out. Take a few seconds.

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Well, the governor talks about raising the debt ceiling. There was a debt ceiling vote this summer and the governor was asked the question whether he would have voted to raise the debt ceiling ultimately and he said, yes. Because government has to pay their bills. We can't default ultimately. What happened the -- the 12 years I was in the United States Senate, we went from the debt to GDP ratio, which is now over 100 percent. When I came to the Senate it was 68 percent of GDP. When I left the Senate it was 64 percent of GDP.

So government as a size of the economy went down when I was in the United States Senate. Sure I had some votes. Look, I think we've all had votes that I look back on I -- I wish I wouldn't have voted -- No Child Left Behind, you're right, it lead to education spending. That's why I've said that we need to cut and eliminate No Child Left Behind and -- and education funding from the federal government, move it back to the local level where it belongs where parents and local communities can deal with that.

But if you look at my record on spending, on taking on entitlements, never having voted for an appropriation bill increase. You look at -- at my record of never having raised taxes. Governor Romney raised $700 million in taxes and fees in Massachusetts. I never voted to raise taxes. Governor Romney even today suggested raising taxes on the top 1 percent, adopting the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric. I'm not going to adopt that rhetoric. I'm going to represent 100 percent of Americans. We're not raising taxes on anybody.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Governor, please quickly I want to bring the congressman and the speaker into the conversation, but respond.

ROMNEY: There were so many misrepresentations there, it's going to take me a little while. Number one, I said today that we're going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent. So that's number one. Number two, I said yes we should increase the debt ceiling in this last vote, but only if we have a cut, cap and balance provision put in place. Only in that case. And, therefore, I did not agree with the deal that was done in Washington. That was the wrong way to go.

And finally, Senator during your term in Congress, the years you've been there, government has doubled in size. You voted to raise the debt ceiling five times without compensating cuts in spending. In my view, we should not raise the debt ceiling again until we get compensating cuts in spending. A cut, cap and balance approach must be taken.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker...

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Mr. Speaker, join the conversation. Address Gilbert's question and if you so choose, address some criticism you've received on this issue from this state's senior Senator campaigning for governor Romney. He questioned your credentials on fiscal conservatism. He said when you were the speaker, earmarking became an art.

GINGRICH: Well when I was speaker, as I'm sure he remembers, we balanced the budget for four consecutive years, the only time in his lifetime. So I think that's a good place to start with Gilbert's question. We're meeting tonight on the 280th anniversary of George Washington's birth. You go back and look at the founding fathers, they'd have had very clear messages. Hamilton would have said you have to have jobs and economic growth to get back to a balanced budget. You're never going to balance the budget on the back of a highly unemployed country. And so I would be committed, first of all, to a program of jobs and economic growth.

Second, the energy issue is enormous. The leading developer of North Dakota oil estimated recently that, if we would open up federal land and open up offshore, you would have $16 trillion to $18 trillion -- not billion -- trillion dollars in royalties to the federal government in the next generation, an enormous flow which would drive down prices to $2.50 a gallon, would help us balance the budget and would create millions of jobs.

Finally, I agree generally with the need to reform government. I think that, if we were prepared to repeal the 130-year-old civil service laws, go to a modern management system, we could save a minimum of $500 billion a year with a better system. And if we then applied the tenth amendment, as Governor Rick Perry has agreed to head up a project on, I think we can return to the states an enormous share of the power that's currently in Washington, D.C.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Congressman Paul, you've questioned the conservative -- fiscal conservative credentials of all these gentlemen but particularly this week Senator Santorum. You have a new television ad that labels him a fake. Why?

PAUL: Because he's a fake.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

(BOOING)

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: I'm real, John. I'm real.

PAUL: Congratulations.

SANTORUM: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

PAUL: No. I find it really fascinating that, when people are running for office, they're really fiscally conservative. When they're in office, they do something different. And then when they explain themselves, they say, "Oh, I want to repeal that."

So the senator voted for No Child Left Behind, but now -- he voted for it, but now he's running on the effort to get rid of it. So I think the record is so bad, you know, with the politicians.

And, you know, nobody accuses me of not having voted for too much. They're always accusing me for not voting for enough. And I've been running in office, in office off and on for a good many years, and over all those years, I've never voted for a budget deficit. I never voted to increase the national debt.

As a matter of fact, there's only one appropriation bill I voted for, and that was for veterans. I assumed, from the 1970s on, that we were embarking on a very dangerous path, and we're involved in that danger right now.

So this idea of being fiscally conservative now that we're running for office and we're going to repeal something that we did before, I mean, this -- it loses credibility is what our problem is. So... (APPLAUSE) And -- and the one thing that I think should annoy all Americans is the voting for foreign aid? I mean, just think there are foreign aid packages that are huge, and when the member votes for it, they don't say, well, this money is going to A, B, C, because I love that country, but it's the principle of the way the government works. You vote for foreign aid because, for some weird reason, it's supposed to be good for America, but then it goes and helps all our enemies. That's what I disapprove of.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Senator Santorum, respond quickly.

SANTORUM: Ron, The Weekly Standard just did a review, looking at the National Taxpayers Union, I think, Citizens Against Government Waste, and they measured me up against the other 50 senators who were serving when I did and they said that I was the most fiscally conservative senator in the Congress in the -- in the 12 years that I was there.

My -- my ratings with the National Taxpayers Union were As or Bs. They were very high from the Citizens Against Government Waste. I got a hero award.

I was a leader, as you know, on taking on tough issues, which is the entitlement programs, not just welfare reform, but I also worked on Medicare reform and Medicaid reform and also was a leader on trying to deal with Social Security.

And I did that not representing one of the most conservative districts in the state of Texas but in the state of Pennsylvania, with the second largest per capita population of seniors in the country.

And I can tell you those seniors really cared about Social Security. Why? Because all my rich seniors moved to Florida and Arizona. And...

(LAUGHTER)

... and what's left -- what's left in Pennsylvania is folks who relied on Social Security. And I was out there as a Republican senator, a conservative voting record, over a 90 percent conservative voting record from the American Conservative Union.

By the way, Ron, you ranked 145th in the bottom half of Republicans this year in a conservative voting record from that same organization.

We had a strong record in a tough state to be a conservative. If I can stand up in the state of Pennsylvania, which hasn't elected a Republican president since 1988, and have a strong principled voting record on issues that were tough in my state, senior issues, imagine now, as president of the United States, with a Tea Party movement and a conservative -- a riled-up conservative base, what we can accomplish in Washington, D.C.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: Congressman, quickly.

PAUL: You know, that's always a cop-out when you compare yourself to the other members of Congress. The American people are sick and tired of the members of Congress. They get about a 9 percent rating.

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: But this whole thing about comparison of conservative votes, I think you make a very important point. I don't rate what, at the top. If it's spending or on taxes I'm at the very top because I vote for the least amount of spending and the least amount of taxes, which means that some of the conservative ratings -- you have to realize sometimes conservatives want to spend money, too.

When it comes to overseas spending, you vote for the foreign aid. Conservatives are quite pleased with spending money overseas. But if you're a strict fiscal conservative and a constitutionalist you don't vote for that kind of stuff and so you can't just go by the ratings.

KING: As you can see, this is a -- it's an important issue to the people in the audience. I think it's one of the reasons this race has been so volatile. Voters are looking and they say which of these candidates can I trust? And each of you are trying to make your case to them.

As you try to do so, Governor Romney, you said recently that as governor you're a severely conservative governor of Massachusetts. What did you mean by that?

ROMNEY: Well, severe, strict. I was, without question, a conservative governor in my state. We balanced the budget all four years I was in office. We cut taxes 19 times.

I enabled our state police to enforce illegal immigration laws so that people could be taken out of our state that were illegally. We drove our schools to have --

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: -- campaigned for and fought for English immersion in our school, and had that successfully implemented. My policies in Massachusetts were to -- were conservative, and in a state, as Rick indicated, a state that was a relatively liberal state, I stood up and said I would stand on the side of life when the legislature passed a bill saying that life would not be defined not at conception but later.

I said no. When there was an effort to put in place embryo farming and cloning, I vetoed that. When the Catholic Church was attacked, saying, look we're not going to allow you to continue to place children in homes where there's a preference for a man and a woman being the mom and dad, I worked with the Catholic Church to put legislation in place to protect their right to exercise their religious conscience.

I have through my record as a governor demonstrated that kind of conservative belief. But also, look a step back and look at my record running the Olympics. Balanced the budget there, made it successful with the help of a terrific team.

Then look back into the business. You can't be, I don't believe, anything but a fiscal conservative and run a business, because if you don't balance your budget, you go out of business.

KING: Mr. Speaker, as you know, often when deficit reduction --

(APPLAUSE)

KING: -- when deficit reduction and economic growth are priorities at the same time, some people see a collision. Some people see a conflict. You've outlined your views on taxes. Governor Romney today outlined a tax plan that would cut the -- put the top rate at 28 percent, eliminate capital gain taxes for incomes below $200,000, cut the corporate tax rate to 25 percent.

Is that the right approach? And is it consistent -- and it's a tough one sometimes -- with spurring economic growth at a time this state and other states are looking for jobs? But as you have Gilbert's (ph) question, also looking to make sure the next president works on the deficit?

GINGRICH: Well, look, first of all, I think that Governor Romney today moved in the right direction, and I think that that's a serious step towards trying to find -- closer to supply side. I wouldn't agree with him on capping capital gains cuts at $200,000, because I think that's, frankly, economically destructive, and I don't believe in class warfare.

And that's a number below Obama's class warfare number. So we can argue later about capital gains cuts.

But I think there's a different question. Everybody talks about managing the current government. The current government is a disaster. I mean, we don't -- you know --

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: -- this is -- it is -- the reason I started with the idea that came out of Strong America Now to repeal the 130-year-old civil service laws and go to a modern management system, is you change everything.

And the fact is, if we're serious -- and, in a funny kind of way, Ron and I are closer on the scale of change. We'd approach it slightly different, but I think you've got to start and say what would a modern system be like?

And a modern system would be -- just take control of the border. It is utterly stupid to say that the United States government can't control the border. It's a failure of will, it's a failure of enforcement.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: So let me just take that one example. Let's assume you could, tomorrow morning, have a president who wanted to work with your governor, that instead of suing Arizona, helped Arizona, who actually worked with Arizona. Now --

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: -- what's the fiscal reality three years from now in your emergency rooms, in your schools, in your prisons, of controlling the border? It's a lot less expensive. You just took a major step towards a less expensive future. So I think it is possible to modernize the federal government and cut taxes and develop energy simultaneously. And the three lead you to Gilbert's concern. Let's get back to a balanced budget.

(APPLAUSE)

KING: The Speaker raises an important point about looking forward, and I hope we spend most of the night doing that. But as you know, there's a lot of anger in the base of the party about some of the things that have happened in the past, and the Tea Party, especially.

Now, earmarks, the pork barrel spending, it's a tiny slice of the budget. I think we all know that. But if you talk to a Tea Party activist, they think -- an example, a gateway to corruption.

Senator, you have said there are good earmarks and bad earmarks. And you have talked about your earmarks in the past. Any that you specifically regret? And why have you criticized -- why do you think the money that went to Governor Romney for security at the Olympics, why was that a bad earmark?

SANTORUM: I didn't suggest it was a bad earmark. I voted for it and about half the money -- a little over half the money that went to the Salt Lake games.

But Governor Romney asked for that earmark. That's really the point here. He's out there on television ads right now, unfortunately, attacking me for saying that I'm this great earmarker, when he not only asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of dollars, sought those earmarks and used them, and he did as the governor of Massachusetts, $300 million or $400 million. He said, I would be foolish if I didn't go out and try to get federal dollars.

So the idea that somehow earmarks during the time that I was in Congress were this thing that drove up spending in Washington, D.C., if you actually look at it, as I said before, as a percentage of GDP, actually the deficits -- the debt went down. What happened is there was abuse.

When abuse happened, I said we should stop the earmarking process. But I did say there were good earmarks and bad earmarks.

We wouldn't have the V-22 Osprey, which was the most essential air platform for our Marines in particular in the war against the radical Islamists. We wouldn't have it if it wasn't for an earmark. That program would have been killed under George Bush 41. Dick Cheney, the Defense Department, wanted to kill that program, and many of us, including myself, stood up and made sure that was there.

Congress has a role to play when it comes to appropriating money, and sometimes the president and the administration doesn't get it right. What happened was an abuse of the process.

When that abuse occurred, I stepped forward, as Jim DeMint did, who, by the way, was an earmarker, as almost everybody else in Congress was. Why? Because Congress has a role of allocating resources when they think the administration has it wrong.

I defended that at the time. I'm proud I defended it at the time, because I think they did make mistakes. I do believe there was abuse, and I said we should stop it, and as president I would oppose earmarks.

KING: Governor?

ROMNEY: I didn't follow all of that, but I can tell you this -- I would put a ban on earmarks. I think it opens the door to excessive spending, spending on projects that don't need to be done.

I think there are a lot of projects that have been voted for. You voted to the "Bridge to Nowhere." I think these earmarks, we've had it with them.

SANTORUM: Yes.

ROMNEY: If Congress wants to vote in favor of a bill, they should take that bill, bring it forward with committees, have people say -- vote it up or down on the floor of the House or the Senate, have the president say yes or no, and move forward. But the earmark process is broken. There are thousands and thousands of earmarks, money being used inappropriately.

And I'll tell you this -- he mentioned coming to the Olympics, coming to the United States Congress, asking for support. No question about it. That's the nature of what it is when you lead an organization or a state.

You come to Congress and you say, these are the things we need. In the history of the Olympic movement, the federal government has always provided the transportation and security. So we came to the federal government asking for help on transportation and security.

I was fighting for those things. Our games were successful. But while I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the "Bridge to Nowhere."

KING: Quickly. (APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: It's really interesting, Governor, because the process you just described of an open process where members of Congress put forth their suggestions on how to spend money, have them voted on individually, is exactly how the process worked. So what you just suggested as to how earmarks should work in the future is exactly how they worked in the past. So I suspect you would have supported earmarks if you were in the United States Senate.

ROMNEY: I'm sorry. The 6,000 earmarks that were put in place under the Speaker's term, for instance, were oftentimes tagged on to other bills --

(BOOING)

ROMNEY: I'm sorry. I don't mean to be critical.

That was the process. There were thousands -- I mean, we've had thousands and thousands of earmarks. They are typically tagged on to -- bundled on to other bills.

OK. Go ahead, Mr. Speaker. Go ahead.

SANTORUM: Wait a second. You're entitled to your opinions, Mitt. You're not entitled to --

ROMNEY: I've heard that line before. I've heard that before, yes.