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Aired November 22, 2011 - 21:00   ET


FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: They're cutting a trillion dollars out of the defense budget, which just happens to equal the trillion dollars we're putting into "Obama- care."

And so what you have is a president that has a priority of spending us into bankruptcy, but he's not just spending us into bankruptcy, he's spending the money foolishly.

We need to protect America and protect our troops and our military and stop the idea of "Obama-care." That's the best way to save money, not the military.


WOLF BLITZER, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: Hold on one second because Ron Paul wants to respond to that point.

REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, they're not cutting anything out of anything. All this talk is just talk.


PAUL: Believe me. They're cutting -- they're nibbling away at baseline budgeting, and its automatic increases. There's nothing cut against the military. And the people on the Hill are nearly hysterical because they're not going -- the budget isn't going up as rapidly as they want it to. It's a road to disaster. We had better wake up.


ROMNEY: OK. Let's just talk about what they're cutting with the first $350 billion, not the next 600 which is coming down the road. The first $350 billion, what do they cut? They stopped the F-22. They delayed aircraft carriers. They stopped the Navy cruiser system. They said long range Air Force bombers aren't going to be built. They're trying to cut our troops by 50,000. The list goes on.

They're cutting programs that are cutting the capacity of America to defend itself. Look, let's stand back for a moment, because we've been talking about Israel and Iran. What we're talking about here is a failure on the part of the president to lead with strength.

And that's why we have discussions about whether Israel should have to step in to stop the nuclear program, whether Iran is going to become nuclear. We have a president who pursued an agenda of saying we're going to be friendly to our foes and we're going to be disrespectful to our friends.

The right course in America is to stand up to Iran with crippling sanctions, indict Ahmadinejad for violating the Geneva -- or the Genocide Convention, put in place the kind of crippling sanctions that stop their economy. I know it's going to make gasoline more expensive. There's no price which is worth an Iranian nuclear weapon.

And the right course for Israel is to show that we care about Israel, that they are our friend, we'll stick with them. If I'm president of the United States, my first trip -- my first foreign trip will be to Israel to show the world we care about that country and that region.


BLITZER: All right. We're going to stay on this subject.

Go ahead.

ALISON ACOSTA FRASER, FORMER DEPUTY DIRECTOR, OKLAHOMA OFFICE OF STATE FINANCE: Hi, my name is Alison Acosta Fraser, and I'm the director of the Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation. And my question is this, the next president will have to make some very, very tough choices in order to solve the nation's spending and debt crisis. Would you be willing to say that our national security is so paramount that cuts to the defense budget are unacceptable?

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No. I helped found the Military Reform Caucus in 1981 at the beginning of the Reagan buildup because it's clear that there are some things you can do in defense that are less expensive.

It's clear, if it takes 15 to 20 years to build a weapons system at a time when Apple changes technology every nine months, there's something profoundly wrong with this system. So I'm not going to tell you automatically I'm going to say yes.


GINGRICH: But let me make a deeper point. There's a core thing that's wrong with this whole city. You said earlier that it would take too long to open up American oil. We defeated Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan in three years and eight months because we thought we were serious.

If we were serious, we would open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse. Now, that's what we would do if we were a serious country. If we were serious...

(APPLAUSE) GINGRICH: One last thing, if we were serious, we would apply Strong America Now's model of Lean Six Sigma, we would save $500 billion a year by having an efficient effective federal government. We would open up federal lands, increasing dramatically both jobs and the amount of revenue of the federal government.

There are lots of things you can do if you decide break out of the current mindless bureaucracy of this city and just get the job done, including, by the way, making the Millennium Challenge work and doing it in a way that we actually help people even more effectively and at a much lower cost by having public/private partnerships.

BLITZER: I'm going to bring Governor Huntsman in, but very quickly, Mr. Speaker, would you, if you were president of the United States, bomb Iran's nuclear facilities to prevent it from becoming a nuclear power?

GINGRICH: Only as a last recourse and only as a step towards replacing the regime. No bombing campaign which leaves the regime in charge is going to accomplish very much in the long run. You have to seriously talk about regime replacement, not just attacking them.

But I will also say -- this is, I guess, where I disagree with my good friend Ron Paul. If my choice was to collaborate with the Israelis on a conventional campaign or force them to use their nuclear weapons, it will be an extraordinarily dangerous world if out of a sense of being abandoned they went nuclear and used multiple nuclear weapons in Iran. That would be a future none of us would want to live through.


BLITZER: Governor Huntsman, where do you stand on defense cuts?

FORMER GOV. JON HUNTSMAN JR, R-UTAH, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, let's face the economic reality. Let's face the deficit reality we have as a country. We have an economic deficit. And I'd argue that 70 percent debt-to-GDP is a national security problem because, at some point, you just don't grow any more, when your debt becomes that.

I mean, look at Japan. They're in their third decade of lost growth. Look at Greece. Look at Italy. So I'd say, aside from that, we've got another deficit in this country. It's called the trust deficit.

People have lost trust in their institutions of power in America. They don't trust Congress. They don't trust the executive branch. They don't trust Wall Street. The list goes on. We've got to fix both those deficits.

As it relates to defense spending, let's be realistic about this. We can't have an intellectually honest conversation about where we go with debt and spending with sacred cows. Everything's got to be on the table. The Defense Department's got to be on the table, for haven't sake. But we need to have a Defense Department and a budget for the Defense Department. If we can't find some savings in the $650 billion budget, we're not looking closely enough.

But we need spending for the Department of Defense that follows a strategy. And that strategy needs to follow how we best protect the American people now that we're in the second decade of the 21st century.

And I believe our national security strategy and our foreign policy increasingly needs to follow, number one, economic policy.

It used to break my heart sitting in Beijing, the second largest embassy in the world, looking at neighboring Afghanistan. We'd have 100,000 troops there. The Chinese would move in and take the mining concession. And I'd say there's something fundamentally wrong with this picture.

When are we going to get with the program and determine that foreign policy will be driven by economics, that which plays right back to strengthening our core (ph)...


... and creates jobs here on the home front.

And, second of all, let's face the reality that we have a counterterror threat for as far as the eye can see.

Professor Wolfowitz was just up here. I know he's done a lot of work on -- for as far as the eye can see, and that means not only in Afghanistan but every corner of the world. We've got to prepare for the reality that counterterrorism is here to stay. We need friends and allies who are in this fight with us. We need special forces response capability. We need defense spending that will match the realities of where we find ourselves.

BLITZER: Thank you very much.


Let me bring in Governor Perry into this conversation.

As you know, the so-called supercommittee failed. And as a result, unless Congress takes action next year -- in an election year, that would be difficult -- there's not going to be any change in that automatic trigger as it's called. That sequestration, $1.2 trillion cut, including $600 billion in defense, will go into effect.

Here's the question. If you were president of the United States, would you compromise with Democrats in Congress in order to avoid that Washington gridlock that, if you believe the polls, the American people hate?

GOV. RICK PERRY, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I don't think anybody is particularly surprised that a supercommittee failed. It was a super-failure. And I think we expected that. We had a president of the United States who is not a leader. He pitched this over to them and said, here, you all figure this out. I've signed six balanced budgets as the head of the state of Texas. I worked with those legislators on a daily basis, or my staff.

This president has been an absolute failure when it came to this budget process. And the idea -- it was almost reprehensible to me. I've worn the uniform of this country. I've been the commander in chief of the 20-plus-thousand National Guard troops that we have in Texas, Dr. Paul.

But it was reprehensible, for me, for this president to stand in front of Americans and to say that that half a trillion dollars, $500 million-plus is not going to be on the table and we're just going to have to work our way through it, putting young men and women's life in jeopardy.

And I will tell you, as a commander in chief, as an American citizen, that is totally and absolutely irresponsible. Even his own secretary of defense said it was irresponsible. As a matter of fact, if Leon Panetta is an honorable man, he should resign in protest.

BLITZER: Here's the question, though. Would you compromise -- all of you have said you wouldn't accept any tax increases at all, even if there were 10 -- 10 times as many spending cuts. So would you just let the gridlock continue, Governor Perry, or would you compromise under those circumstances?

PERRY: Listen, I've had to work with Democrats for the 10 years that I've been the governor of the state of Texas.

So the idea that you can't sit down and work with people on both sides of the aisle, but just to, you know, throw us into -- into that briar patch at this particular point in time and say, what would you do -- we would never have gotten into that situation if I were the president of the United States. I'd have been there working day in and day out so that we had a budget that not only -- I've laid out a clear plan to -- flat tax of 20 percent; cut the spending; and put a 20 percent corporate tax rate in. And, as a matter of fact, they ought to make the legislature, the Congress, part-time, and that would make as big an impact in this city as anything I can think of.

BLITZER: Let me bring Senator Santorum into this, because I covered Ronald Reagan's presidency. And, as you know -- and I'll read a quote. He wrote in his autobiography this: "If you got 75 of 80 percent of what you were asking for, I say you take it and fight for the rest later."

If you got 75 percent or 80 percent of what you wanted, would you make a deal with Democrats, increase some taxes in order to move on and fight the next battle the next day?

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: It all depends on what the 75 percent and 85 percent is. If the -- if the things that you have to give up make what you're trying to accomplish harder to do -- in other words, reduce the deficit, what the Republicans -- why the Republicans are drawing a line in the sand, rightfully so, it's because what they're -- what the Democrats are attempting to do is increase taxes, which will slow down to the -- this economy, which will increase the deficit, reduce tax revenues, ultimately, and -- and increase government payments.

So you don't work against yourself. You -- you won't -- you -- you take ideas from the other side that you may not find particularly valuable, like spending cuts that you may not want. There are spending cuts that I would like to, you know, I mean there's things that it mentioned before, that I would stand -- stand firm on.

But in a compromise, yes, you do give up some things that you think maybe are critical spending. But you don't undermine the ability of this con -- economy to grow because of politics. This president has poisoned the well. He's campaigned all over this country, trying to divide group from group in order to -- to -- to win, you know, to -- to position himself to win this election and rally his troops. And what he's done is poisoned the well here in Congress.

I've worked together, I've got a long track record of bipartisan accomplishments where I kept to the principles. I use welfare reform as an example. Welfare reform, I stuck to my principles. We cut the welfare budget. We had -- we had time limits. We block granted to the states and we put a work requirement.

Did I compromise on things?

Yes. I compromised on some -- on some child care. I compromised on -- on some transportation.

So I got 75 percent. But it 100 percent changed the welfare system because we...

BLITZER: Thank you.

SANTORUM: -- stuck to our principles.

BLITZER: Let -- but let's stay on this subject, because I know many of you want to weigh in.


BLITZER: We have another question.

ALEX BRILL: My name is Alex Brill and I'm a research fellow in the economics department at the American Enterprise Institute.

Even if the super committee hadn't failed, the savings that they would have proposed would have been a drop in the bucket relative to the $11 trillion deficit our country may face in the subsequent decade. In the decades after that, without entitlement reform, we'll borrow even more.

To strengthen our economy, to strengthen our country, what entitlement reform proposals would you make to address our long-term structural deficit?

BLITZER: Good question.

Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: It's a great question and it raises the -- the core issue of really large scale change.

Yesterday in Manchester, I outlined a Social Security reform plan based on Chile and based on Galveston, Texas. In Chile, people who have now have the right to a personal Social Security savings account, for 30 years, the government of Chile has promised that if you don't have as much savings as you would get from Social Security, the government would make up the difference.

In 30 years time, they've paid zero dollars, even after '07 and '08 and '09, people slid from three times as much to one-and-a-half times as much, but they didn't go below the Social Security amount. The result is in Chile, for example, 72 percent -- they have 72 percent of the GDP in savings. It has -- it has increased the economy, increased the growth of jobs, increased the amount of wealth and it dramatically solves Social Security without a payment cut and without having to hurt anybody.

So I think you can have a series of entitlement reforms that, frankly, make most of this problem go away without going through the kind of austerity and pain that this city likes.

BLITZER: Let's talk about that, Congresswoman Bachmann.

Social Security, Medicare, health care -- what would you cut first?

What would you tackle if you were president of the United States?

REP. MICHELE BACHMANN, R-MINN., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Let me answer that in the context of the super committee, because I was involved in the middle of that fight as a member of Congress this summer. And my voice said this. I said it's time for us to draw a line in the sand. We have sufficient revenues coming in to pay the interest on the debt.

But the real issue was, were we going to give Congress another $2.4 billion in borrowing authority?

In other words, another blank check to the president. Because, again, consider the context. A little of four years ago, we were just over $8 trillion in debt. We are now $15 trillion in debt in just over four years. Now we're talking about -- if the gentleman is correct -- adding another $11 trillion in debt over 10 years, or potentially $8.5 trillion, according to the super committee.

All that they were asked to do is cut back on $1.2 trillion of that increase in debt. We aren't even talking about the central issue, which is balancing the budget. We need to balance the budget and then chip away at the debt. This isn't Monopoly money.

Because what we need to recognize is that when we are sending interest money over to China, with whom we are highly in hock, we're not just sending our money. We're sending our power.

What will happen is that our national security and our military will decrease and our money will increase China's military. So think about that.

Our money will be used to grow China's military at the expense of the United States military. That should give every American pause.

BLITZER: All right. I want everybody to stand by and all of you are going to weigh in. We've got a lot more to discuss, important issues that we're talking about. Collect your thoughts for a moment.

More tough questions for the candidates including their plans for protecting the border, reducing illegal immigration -- we're live from Constitution Hall here in Washington, D.C. This is the CNN Republican National Security Debate.



BLITZER: Welcome back to the CNN National Security Debate.

The next President of the United States will certainly have to tackle conflicts in the Middle East. You're looking at these live pictures coming in from Cairo's Tahrir Square right now, the middle of the night in Egypt.

Thousands of Egyptians are again protesting their government as the Arab Spring continues into the winter months.

The candidates will weigh in on this and much, much more. We're being seen live, around the world right now. Remember, you can send in your questions and comments at; at Twitter, remember hash tag #cnndebate.

The Republican National Security Debate -- we'll be right back.


BLITZER: Welcome back to the historic Constitution Hall here in Washington, D.C. We're at the CNN Republican National Security Debate. Let's go right to the audience. We have a question. Please, give us your name and your organization.

TRULUCK: Thank you. My name is Phil Truluck. I'm executive vice president and chief operating officer of The Heritage Foundation. And I'd like to thank all the candidates for joining us tonight. I know some of you may want to be in other places, but we appreciate you being here and sharing your views with us.

Let's -- I'd like to turn it back a little bit, a little closer to home, and talk about what's going on on the borders, our southern border. As all of you know, the drug-related crimes and violence are getting heavier and heavier in that area. First, do you consider that to be a national interest threat? And, secondly, what could we be doing with the Mexican government to help stop these drug cartels?

BLITZER: Let's go to Governor Perry. You represent the state with the longest border with Mexico right now. What do you think you should do, if you were President of the United States, as far as using the United States military?

PERRY: Well, let me kind of broaden it out. I think it's time for a 21st century Monroe Doctrine. When you think about what we put in place in the -- in the 1820s, and then we used it again in the 1960s with the Soviet Union. We're seeing countries start to come in and infiltrate. We know that Hamas and Hezbollah are working in Mexico, as well as Iran, with their ploy to come into the United States.

We know that Hugo Chavez and the Iranian government has one of the largest -- I think their largest embassy in the world is in Venezuela. So the idea that we need to have border security with the United States and Mexico is paramount to the entire western hemisphere.

So putting that secure border in place with strategic fencing, with the boots on the ground, with the aviation assets, and then working with Mexico in particular, whether it's putting sanctions against the banks, whether it's working with them on security with Mexico, all of those together can make that country substantially more secure and our borders secure.

As the President of the United States, I will promise you one thing, that within 12 months of the inaugural, that border will be shut down, and it will be secure.


BLITZER: Congressman Paul, you're from Texas. Do you agree with your governor?

PAUL: Not entirely.


PAUL: No, the drug was mentioned. I think that's another war we ought to cancel, because it's...


PAUL: ... to nobody's benefit. And that's where the violence is coming from. But, yes, we do have a national responsibility for our borders. What I'm, sort of, tired of is all the money spent and lives lost worrying about the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan and forgetting about our borders between the United States and Mexico. We should think more about, you know, what we do at home.

We need better immigration services, obviously. But, you know, if you subsidize something or give people incentives, you get more of it. So if you give easy road to citizenship, you're going to have more illegals. If you have a weak economy, which is understandable and we should have prevented, that's understandable.

But giving -- mandating to the states and to Texas that we have to provide free medical care and free education, that's a great burden. It's a great burden to California and all the border states.

So I would say eliminate all these benefits and talk about eliminating the welfare state because it's detrimental not only to here but the people that come because that's the incentive to bring their families with them.

BLITZER: But I just want you to clarify. When you say cancel the war on drugs, does that mean legalize all these drugs? PAUL: I think the federal war on drugs is a total failure.


You can -- you can at least let sick people have marijuana because it's helpful, but compassionate conservatives say, well, we can't do this; we're going to put people who are sick and dying with cancer and they're being helped with marijuana, if they have multiple sclerosis -- the federal government's going in there and overriding state laws and putting people like that in prison.

Why don't we handle the drugs like we handle alcohol? Alcohol is a deadly drug. What about -- the real deadly drugs are the prescription drugs. They kill a lot more people than the illegal drugs.

So the drug war is out of control. I fear the drug war because it undermines our civil liberties. It magnifies our problems on the borders. We spend -- like, over the last 40 years, $1 trillion on this war. And believe me, the kids can still get the drugs. It just hasn't worked.

BLITZER: Herman Cain, let me let you...


... weigh in.

CAIN: Yes. Allow me to answer the gentleman's question. The answer is yes. An insecure border is a national security threat for the following reasons.

Number one, we know that terrorists have come into this country by way of Mexico. Secondly, 40 percent of the people in Mexico, according to a survey, already believe that their country is a failed state. Thirdly, the number of people killed in Mexico last year equals the number of people killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined.

So yes, so let's solve the whole problem. Number one, secure the border for real. Number two, enforce the laws that are already there. We don't need new laws. Number three, promote the current path to citizenship. Clean up the bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. so people can come through the front door instead of sneaking in the side door. And, number four, to deal with the illegals that are already here, empower the states to do what the federal government is not capable of doing.


BLITZER: Let's stay on this subject. Go ahead, please.

QUESTION: I have a question about high-skilled immigration. We hear a lot about low-skilled immigration, so I want to ask you about high-skilled immigration.

What would you do to ensure that the United States is as welcoming as possible to the world's skilled immigrants and entrepreneurs?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM: Well, as the son of a legal immigrant to this country, I strongly believe in legal immigration and believe we are that shining city on the hill, that our future -- if you look at all of the jobs that are being created in our economy today, a huge percentage of them come from the legal immigrants of this county -- country who have innovated, who created great products, who created great companies and employed lots of people.

That's one of the reasons that -- that I put together my economic plan, was to take all that great innovation that's coming as a result, in part, of legal immigration and make sure that those products that are being created are actually made here in America.

That's part of the problem that -- you know, Reaganomics was criticized as trickle-down. Problem is, we're not seeing that money trickle down to the blue-collar workers in America. And that's why I put forth a four-point economic plan to revitalize manufacturing that begins with zeroing out the corporate tax for manufacturers; also, regulatory reform, repatriation of profits, if invested in this country, to pay no taxes; and finally, energy policy that will explode the energy industry in this country.