The February 22 CNN Republican Presidential debate held in Mesa, Arizona featured several questions and responses about issues related to poverty. The debate was hosted by CNN Anchor and Chief National Correspondent John King. Questions from audience members were included in the debate, as well as those submitted on Facebook, Twitter, and CNNpolitics.com.
The following candidates were all either asked about poverty or referred to it in responses:
- Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney
- Former Pennsylvania Senator Rick Santorum
- Representative Ron Paul of Texas
- Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Click here to see video clips of the debate, or here to read a full transcription.
Here’s a rundown of what candidates were asked, and what they said:
FORMER GOVERNOR MITT ROMNEY (R-MA): [Responding to: 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?] 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--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.
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KING: Governor, please. [Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control, and if not, why? As you can see it's a, it's a very popular question in the audience, as we can see. Look, we're not going to spend a ton of time on this but it is, please.]
ROMNEY: John, you know, I think as Rick has just said, this isn't an argument about contraceptives, this is a discussion about, are we going to have a nation which preserves the foundation of the nation, which is the family, or are we not? And Rick is absolutely right.
When you have 40 percent of kids being born out of wedlock, and among certain ethnic groups the vast majority being born out of wedlock, you ask yourself, how are we going to have a society in the future? Because these kids are raised in poverty in many cases, they're in abusive settings. The likelihood of them being able to finish high school or college drops dramatically in single-family homes. And we haven't been willing to talk about this.
And when we have programs that say we're going to teach abstinence in schools, the liberals go crazy and try and stop us from doing that. We have to have a president who's willing to say that the best opportunity an individual can give to their unborn child is an opportunity to be born in a home with a mother and a father. And I think – [cut off by applause].
FORMER SENATOR RICK SANTORUM (R-PA): [Responding to: 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?] 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.
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.
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JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR, CNN ANCHOR AND CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: 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?
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL (R-TX): Because he's a fake.
SANTORUM: I'm real, John. I'm real.
SANTORUM: Thank you.
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.
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, 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.
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KING: So let's focus the time -- let's focus the time we spend on this on the role of the president and your personal views and question the role of government.
And Senator Santorum, this has come up -- yes, it has come up because of the president's decision in the campaign. It's also come up because of some of the things you have said on the campaign trail. When you were campaigning in Iowa, you told an evangelical blog, if elected, you will talk about what, quote, "no president has talked about before -- the dangers of contraception." Why?
SANTORUM: What I was talking about is we have a society -- Charles Murray just wrote a book about this and it's on the front page of "The New York Times" two days ago, which is the increasing number of children being born out of wedlock in America, teens who are sexually active.
What we're seeing is a problem in our culture with respect to children being raised by children, children being raised out of wedlock, and the impact on society economically, the impact on society with respect to drug use and all -- a host of other things when children have children.
And so, yes, I was talking about these very serious issues. And, in fact, as I mentioned before, two days ago on the front page of "The New York Times", they're talking about the same thing. The bottom line is we have a problem in this country, and the family is fracturing.
Over 40 percent of children born in America are born out of wedlock. How can a country survive if children are being raised in homes where it's so much harder to succeed economically? It's five times the rate of poverty in single-parent households than it is in two-parent homes. We can have limited government, lower tax -- we hear this all the time, cut spending, limit the government, everything will be fine. No, everything's not going to be fine.
There are bigger problems at stake in America. And someone has got to go out there -- I will -- and talk about the things.
And you know what? Here's the difference.
The left gets all upset. "Oh, look at him talking about these things." You know, here's the difference between me and the left, and they don't get this. Just because I'm talking about it doesn't mean I want a government program to fix it.
That's what they do. That's not what we do.
(AUDIENCE MEMBER): Gentleman my name is Jerry Lott (ph) and I'm from Key Man, Arizona. It seems that Arizona has come under federal attack just for wanting to secure its southern border. What will you and your administrations do to fix the situation? To secure our border and to protect the American people?
KING: Congressman Paul, I want to go to you first on this one. You're from a border state. As you answer Gary's question, a recent federal analysis says the cost of secure fencing, which they have a good deal of the border along this state, would cost about $3 million per mile. Is that a good investment? Money well spent?
REPRESENTATIVE RON PAUL (R-TX): Probably not, but we can do a better job, and the best way to do it is forget about the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan and deal with our borders, put our resources on this border. This is what we need. But we need to change the rules. We reward illegal immigration. They get benefits, Texas hospitals, and, you know, schools are going bankrupt.
The restraints on the states, and Obama's restraints on the states to deal with it. Why is it if an illegal comes across the border and they go on private property, why isn't that trespassing? And why don't you have the right to stop it? So but there should be no mandates from the federal government about what you must do under the 9th and 10th. There would be essentially none.
But the federal government does have a responsibility for these borders. And I just hate to see all these resources -- I think that we should have much more immigration service on the border to make it easier -- it's hard to even get to visit this country. We're losing a lot of visitors and workers that could come to this country because we have an inefficient immigration service.
And then that invites the illegal. We have to deal -- we can't endorse the illegal, but the program today endorses the illegal problems. And a weak economy is always detrimental, too, because of the welfare state. We have welfare at home and some jobs go begging, we have jobs going begging in this country in the midst of the recession, has to do with the economy.
You can't ignore the economy. But also the welfare state, allowing immigrants to come over and then get the benefits -- if you subsidize something, you get more of. So there's a lot we can do and should do and certainly this president is not doing a very good job.
KING: Mr. Speaker, on that point, this is a conversation about what is the proper role of the federal government in the education issue? To the point the governor just raised about teachers unions, you have complimented President Obama to a degree on that issue, saying he had some courage to stand up to the teachers union. You went on tour with Al Sharpton and this president's education secretary in support of the multibillion-dollar Race to the Top program that essentially -- I think they used stimulus money for it, but incentives to states, to schools that perform, and that enact reforms.
FORMER HOUSE SPEAKER NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA): What we did is we went around, including Tucson, in this state, and we talked about the importance of charter schools, which was the one area where I thought the president did in fact show some courage, being willing to go into Philadelphia or into Baltimore or in a variety of places and advocate -- we were in Montgomery, Alabama, for example -- and say charter schools are an important step in the right direction.
There are two things wrong with the president's approach. And the reason I would, frankly, dramatically shrink the Federal Department of Education down to doing nothing but research, return all the power under the Tenth Amendment back to the states.
And I agree with Rick's point. I would urge the states, then, to return most of that power back to the local communities, and I'd urge the local communities the turn most of the power back to the parents. And I think the fact is we have bought -- we bought over the last 50 years three huge mistakes. We bought the mistake that the teachers unions actually cared about the kids. It's increasingly clear they care about protecting bad teachers.
And if you look at L.A. Unified, it is almost criminal what we do to the poorest children in America, entrapping them into places. No Nation Left Behind said if a foreign power did this to our children, we'd declare it an act of war because they're doing so much damage. The second thing we bought into was the -- the whole school of education theory that you don't have to learn, you have to learn about how you would learn.
So when you finish learning about how you would learn, you have self esteem because you're told you have self esteem, even if you can't read the words self esteem. And the, and the third thing we bought, which Rick eluded to, which is really important. We bought this notion that you could have Carnegie units and you could have state standards and you could have a curriculum everybody -- every child is unique. Every teach is unique. Teaching is a missionary vocation. When you bureaucratize it, you kill it. We need a fundamental re-thinking from the ground up.
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GINGRICH: [Responding to KING: Gentlemen, our time is short, so one last question. Nine states have voted so far. We talked a bit earlier about the volatility in the race. The people of Arizona vote Tuesday. Michigan, on Tuesday. Wyoming and Washington State, then Super Tuesday, beyond that. Fourteen states over the next 10 days or so. Republican voters are clearly having a hard time. I want to close with this question: Help the voters who still have questions about you. What is the biggest misconception about you in the public debate right now?] I think that the fact is that the American public are really desperate to find somebody who can solve real problems. I think that's why it's been going up and down and why you have got all sorts of different folks as front-runners.
And all I can say is that my background of having actually worked with President Reagan, then having been Speaker, if there was one thing I wish the American people could know about me, it would be the amount of work it took to get to welfare reform, a balanced budget, a 4.2 percent unemployment rate, and that you've got to have somebody who can actually get it done in Washington, not just describe it on the campaign trail.