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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Part III: 21:00-21:30, CNN FLORIDA REPUBLICAN PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE

Aired January 26, 2012 - 21:00   ET

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


REP. RON PAUL, R-TEXAS, PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I want to make a quick comment, because Newt's mentioned this quite a few times about balancing the budget for four times. I went back and looked at the record.

The budget was -- the national debt during those four years actually went up about a trillion dollars. What he's talking about is, he doesn't count the money he takes out of Social Security.

So, Reagan nor you had a truly balanced budget because the national debt goes up, and that's what we pay the interest on. So I think you've stretched that a little bit more than you should have.

(APPLAUSE)

WOLF BLITZER, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN LEAD POLITICAL ANCHOR: Go ahead and respond. And then Senator Santorum.

FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH, R-GA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: No, I...

BLITZER: You want to respond to Congressman Paul?

GINGRICH: No, I would just say -- I would just say, under the system that was used, we were $405 billion (inaudible)...

(BOOING)

I agree with Ron -- but let me finish. I actually agree with you, and I propose that we take Social Security off budget so no president can ever again get threaten, as Obama did in August, that he would not send the check out, and you could set Social Security back up as a free-standing trust fund. It does have enough money and you could in fact pay the checks without regard to politics in Washington.

BLITZER: Go ahead, quickly.

(APPLAUSE)

FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM, R-PA., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, look, we just listened to the president of the United States the other night completely ignore the biggest problem facing this country when it comes to our financial health. We've been downgraded as a -- as a -- as a country and the president of the United States completely ignored any of the heavy work, the hard work in being honest with the American public about what we have to do to get our fiscal house in order.

And I think that's the point I would make here. Going around and promising a whole bunch of new ideas and new projects and big ideas -- that was fine. And maybe we need it; we can do that. I supported the doubling of the National Institutes of Health. But we didn't have a $1.2 trillion deficit. We didn't -- we weren't at over -- we are now going to reach $16 trillion, which is more than our whole GDP. We were not in that situation 20, 15 years ago.

We are in a different world. We need leaders who are going to be honest with the people of this country, of the problems we have, and have bold solutions to make that happen. I'll do that.

BLITZER: Let's continue on this subject.

(APPLAUSE)

But let's take a question from the audience.

Go ahead. Stand up and please introduce yourself.

QUESTION: My name is Lynn Frazier and I live here in Jacksonville. And for the Republican presidential candidates, my question is, I'm currently unemployed and I found myself unemployed for the first time in 10 years and unable to afford health care benefits.

What type of hope can you promise me and others in my position?

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Let's ask Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Well, it's a tragedy because this is a consequence of the government being involved in medicine since 1965.

When I was growing up, we didn't have a whole lot, but my dad had a small insurance, but medical care costs weren't that much. And you should have an opportunity -- medical care insurance should be given to you as an individual, so if you're employed or not employed, you have -- you just take care of that and you keep it up. When you lose a job, sometimes you lose your insurance.

But the cost is so high. When you pump money into something, like housing, cost -- prices go up. If you pump money into education, the cost of education goes up. When the government gets involved in medicine, you don't get better care; you get -- cost goes up and it distorts the economy and leads to a crisis.

But your medical care should go with you. You should get total deduction on it. It would be so much less expensive. It doesn't solve every single problem, but you're -- you're suffering from the consequence of way too much government and the cost going up because government has inflated the cost and we have a government-created recession, and that is a consequence of the business cycle.

BLITZER: Speaker -- Speaker Gingrich, what should Lynn do?

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Well, look, the first -- she actually put her finger on two different problems. The largest challenge of this country is to get the economy growing so she can have a job so it's easy for her to have insurance.

We -- we need -- and the president did nothing about this the other night. In fact, his proposal on taxes would make the economy worse.

We need to have a program which would start with, frankly, repealing Obamacare, repealing Dodd-Frank, repealing Sarbanes-Oxley.

(APPLAUSE)

And we need to give her a chance at a job.

Second, we need real health reform, not the Obama style, but we need health reform that allows her to buy in. And Dr. Paul is right. She ought to get the same tax break whether she buys personally or whether she buys through a economy.

She should also be able to buy into an association so that she's buying with lots of other people so it's not single insurance, which is the most expensive kind.

But you combine those two, reforming the insurance system and getting the economy growing again so people are back at work, you cure an awful lot of America's problems with those two steps, and you put her back in a position where she's in charge of her life; she's not dependent on Barack Obama to take care of her.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: That plan work for you, Governor?

FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY, R-MASS., PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Actually, what both these gentlemen said is pretty much spot-on. And I'd -- and I'll add a couple of things.

One, I want to underscore something both of them said, and that is, right now in America, if you have insurance, you most likely got it through your employer. And the reason is, your employer gets a deduction for you when they buy the insurance for you.

That means that, if you change jobs, you've got to get a new insurance company, most likely. And if you become unemployed, you lose your insurance.

That doesn't make sense. And if an individual wants to own their own insurance, they're not part of a big group, and so as a result they get a very high rate. What we should do is allow individuals to own their own insurance and have the same tax treatment as companies get. You do that and people like this young woman would be able to own her insurance. The rates would be substantial lower for her buying it individually than if she had to buy it individually today.

Secondly, getting people to work. This president has failed the American people.

He got up there and gave a speech last night. It was like Groundhog Day all over again. He said the same things and the same results we're seeing today. People are not working.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And we know what it takes to put people back to work. He said some of those things last night -- lowering corporate taxes, lowering regulations, opening up all of the above in energy, cracking down on China. He just doesn't do any of those things, and if I'm president, I will do those things and I'll get you back to work.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: All three of these folks sound great and I agree with them. I would just add that health savings account, which I introduced 20 years ago with John Kasich, is really the fundamental reform of getting consumers back involved in the health care system.

The problem with the answers from Congressman Gingrich and Governor Romney is that, well, they didn't always say what they're saying. Governor Romney was the author of Romneycare, which is a top- down government-run health care system which, read an article today, has 15 different items directly in common with Obamacare, everything from the increase in the Medicaid program, not just that government is going to mandate you buy something that's a condition of breathing, mandate that you buy an insurance policy, something that Governor Romney agreed to at the state level, something Congressman Gingrich for 20 years advocated, that the federal government can force each and every person to enter into a private contract. Something that everyone now, at least up on this stage, says is radically unconstitutional, Congressman Gingrich supported for 20 years.

Governor Romney supported it in the state, a state that is a -- pretty much a model for what Obamacare is going to look like -- the highest health care costs in the country, 27 percent above the average, average waiting time -- 94 percent of the people in Massachusetts are now insured, but there was just a survey that came out and said one in four don't get the care they need because of the high cost. So, you have a card, you're covered, but you can't get care.

This is the top-down model that both of these gentlemen say they're now against, but they've been for, and it does not provide the contrast we need with Barack Obama if we're going to take on that most important issue. We cannot give the issue of health care away in this election. It is too foundational for us to win this election.

BLITZER: A quick rebuttal from Speaker Gingrich and then Governor Romney.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Well, in my case, I think Rick is lumping us together rather more than is accurate.

If you go to healthtransformation.net, I founded the Center for Health Transformation. I wrote a book in 2002 called "Saving Lives and Saving Money." It calls for you and your doctor and your pharmacist and your hospital have a relationship. I believe in something like patient power.

I didn't advocate federal mandates. I talked about it at a state level, finding a way -- which included an escape clause that people didn't have to buy it -- finding a way to try to have people have insurance, particularly for wealthy people who are simply free-riding on local hospitals. But the fact is, it was a personal system, dramatically different than either Romneycare or the version Rick just discussed.

BLITZER: Governor Romney?

ROMNEY: The system that we put in place in our state was something we worked out with the labor community, the health care community, business, and the citizens of the nation. We came together, it was voted by a 200-person legislature. Only two voted no.

Our system has a lot of flaws, a lot of things I'd do differently. It has a lot of benefits. The people of the state like it by about three to one.

We consider it very different than Obamacare. If I were president, day one I will take action to repeal Obamacare. It's bad medicine. It's bad economy. I'll repeal it.

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: And I believe the people -- I believe the people of each state should be able to craft programs that they feel are best for their people. I think ours is working pretty well. If I were governor, it would work a heck of a lot better.

BLITZER: All right.

And very quickly, go ahead.

SANTORUM: What Governor Romney just said is that government-run top-down medicine is working pretty well in Massachusetts and he supports it. Now, think about what that means --

ROMNEY: That's not what I said. SANTORUM: -- going up against Barack Obama, who you are going to claim, well, top-down government-run medicine on the federal level doesn't work and we should repeal it. And he's going to say, wait a minute, Governor. You just said that top-down government-run medicine in Massachusetts works well.

Folks, we can't give this issue away in this election. It is about fundamental freedom. Whether the United States government or even a state government -- you have Amendment 1 (ph) here offered by Scott Pleitgen (ph), who, by the way, endorsed me today, and it's going to be on your ballot as to whether there should be a government mandate here in Florida.

According to Governor Romney, that's OK. If the state does it, that's OK. If the state wants to enforce it, that's OK. Those are not the clear contrasts we need if we're going to defeat Barack Obama and a --

BLITZER: Let's go to Miami.

(APPLAUSE)

(CROSSTALK)

BLITZER: Very quickly.

ROMNEY: Rick, I make enough mistakes in what I say, not for you to add more mistakes to what I say. I didn't say I'm in favor of top- down government-run health care, 92 percent of the people in my state had insurance before our plan went in place. And nothing changes for them. They own the same private insurance they had before.

And for the 8 percent of people who didn't have insurance, we said to them, if you can afford insurance, buy it yourself, any one of the plans out there, you can choose any plan. There's no government plan.

And if you don't want to buy insurance, then you have to help pay for the cost of the state picking up your bill, because under federal law if someone doesn't have insurance, then we have to care for them in the hospitals, give them free care. So we said, no more, no more free riders. We are insisting on personal responsibility.

Either get the insurance or help pay for your care. And that was the conclusion that we reached.

SANTORUM: Does everybody in Massachusetts have a requirement to buy health care?

ROMNEY: Everyone has a requirement to either buy it or pay the state for the cost of providing them free care. Because the idea of people getting something for free when they could afford to care for themselves is something that we decided in our state was not a good idea.

SANTORUM: So, in Massachusetts... (APPLAUSE)

SANTORUM: Just so I understand this, in Massachusetts, everybody is mandated as a condition of breathing in Massachusetts, to buy health insurance, and if you don't, and if you don't, you have to pay a fine.

What has happened in Massachusetts is that people are now paying the fine because health insurance is so expensive. And you have a pre-existing condition clause in yours, just like Barack Obama.

So what is happening in Massachusetts, the people that Governor Romney said he wanted to go after, the people that were free-riding, free ridership has gone up five-fold in Massachusetts. Five times the rate it was before. Why? Because...

ROMNEY: That's total, complete...

SANTORUM: I'll be happy to give you the study. Five times the rate it has gone up. Why? Because people are ready to pay a cheaper fine and then be able to sign up to insurance, which are now guaranteed under "Romney-care," than pay high cost insurance, which is what has happened as a result of "Romney-care."

ROMNEY: First of all, it's not worth getting angry about. Secondly, the...

(APPLAUSE)

ROMNEY: Secondly, 98 percent of the people have insurance. And so the idea that more people are free-riding the system is simply impossible. Half of those people got insurance on their own. Others got help in buying the insurance.

Look, I know you don't like the plan that we had. I don't like the Obama plan. His plan cuts Medicare by $500 billion. We didn't, of course, touch anything like that. He raises taxes by $500 billion. We didn't do that.

He wasn't interested in the 8 percent of the people that were uninsured. He was concerned about the 100 percent of the people of the country. "Obama-care" takes over health care for the American people.

If I'm president of the United States, I will stop it. And in debating Barack Obama, I will be able to show that I have passion and concern for the people in this country that need health care, like this young woman who asked the question.

But I will be able to point out that what he did was wrong. It was bad medicine, it's bad for the economy, and I will repeal it.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Let's move on, let's move on. SANTORUM: Wolf, what Governor Romney said is just factually incorrect. Your mandate is no different than Barack Obama's mandate. It is the same mandate. He takes over...

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right. All right.

SANTORUM: You take over 100 percent, just like he takes over 100 percent, requires the mandate. The same fines that you put in place in Massachusetts are fines that he puts in place in the federal level. Same programs.

BLITZER: Congressman Paul, who is right?

PAUL: I think they're all wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: I think this -- this is a typical result of when you get government involved, because all you are arguing about is which form of government you want. They have way too much confidence in government sorting this out.

So, I would say there's a much better way. And that is allow the people to make their decisions and not get the government involved. You know, it has only been...

(APPLAUSE)

PAUL: When I started medicine, there was no Medicare or Medicaid. And nobody was out in the streets without it. Now, now people are suffering, all the complaints going on. So the government isn't our solution.

So, I'm not too happy with this type of debate, trying to blame one versus the other, so, but -- most likely we're going to continue to have this problem unless we straighten out the economy. And that means...

BLITZER: I'll give you 30 seconds, Mr. Speaker.

PAUL: ... cut the spending. And they talk about these new programs and all, but how many of the other candidates are willing to cut anything? I'm willing to cut $1 trillion out of the first year.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: All right.

GINGRICH: Well, I just want to say that I actually think if you look at what Ron Paul's background is as a doctor, and you look at medicine in the early '60s, and you look at how communities solved problems, it was a fundamentally more flexible and less expensive system.

And there's a lot to be said for rethinking from the ground up, the entire approach to health care.

BLITZER: Let's go to Miami. We have another question.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: CNN Espanol's Juan Carlos Lopez is standing by. Go ahead?

LOPEZ: Yes, Wolf, our question now comes from Jennifer Coryn (ph) she is a -- the Executive Director of the Hispanic Leadership Network, our cosponsor and she is the spouse of a Marine Corps Gunnery Sargent and I believe, Jennifer, your question has to do with the future?

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you very much and good evening. We have many qualified, Hispanic leaders. Which of our Hispanic leaders would you consider to serve in your cabinet?

BLITZER: Senator Santorum?

SANTORUM:: Well, I mean I hate to throw one to Florida, but obviously your Senator Marco Rubio is a pretty impressive guy.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Speaker Gingrich?

GINGRICH: I think that there are a number, and I think for example of -- of when you think cabinet, I think for example of Susana Martinez, the governor of New Mexico. You know, at the cabinet level I think of somebody like Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. I actually thought about Marco Rubio on a slightly more dignified and central role, then being in the cabinet, but that's another conversation.

(APPLAUSE)

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: We -- we are blessed -- we're blessed to have an enormous number of highly qualified Hispanic-Americans in the Republican Party and leadership right now. Brian Sandoval, the governor of -- of Nevada. You mentioned Susana Martinez in New Mexico. I -- both of the Diaz-Belart brothers, one retired from Congress, the other currently there. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Mel Martinez is back in the private sector. Who knows, he could be pulled back. Of course, Senator Marco Rubio a -- a terrific Hispanic- American. I -- I'm sure I'm missing many, many others, but we have a -- a remarkable -- Carlos Gutierrez, formerly secretary of Commerce.

These individuals can for membership in our -- in our cabinet, I believe. And -- and potentially as the -- as the speaker indicates, other positions as well. PAUL: I -- I -- I don't have one particular name that I'm going to bring up, but my litmus test would be to get individuals, Hispanic or otherwise to understand monetary policy and understand the system. But also the Hispanic community is especially attuned to the foreign policy of non-intervention. They -- they are more opposed to war than other communities, so I would think there's plenty in the Hispanic community that could give me good advice and an understanding of why a non-intervention foreign policy is very attractive to the Hispanic people.

BLITZER: All right, gentleman stand by. Much more to discuss. I want to take a short break. We have many more topics to include -- including this, we'll get into this a little bit, what would your wife -- why would your wife make the best first lady. I'll ask these four candidates. Stay with us.

(APPLAUSE)

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: I'm Wolf Blitzer.

We're here in Jacksonville for CNN's Florida Republican presidential debate. Many of you are watching online, commenting on Twitter, Facebook, at CNN.com. We have many more questions for the candidates, including one that hits close to home.

Stand by to find out why each man on this stage thinks his wife would be the best first lady.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BLITZER: Want to get right back to the rest of the debate, but first, on a lighter subject, I want to ask each of these gentlemen why they think their wife would make a great first lady.

Congressman Paul?

PAUL: Well, she's been my wife for 54 years. And we're going to have an anniversary on February 1st.

BLITZER: Congratulations.

PAUL: So -- but she's the mother of five of our children, and she's a grandmother of 18 grandchildren, does an excellent job. And she's also the author of a very famous cookbook, "The Ron Paul Cookbook."

BLITZER: Governor?

ROMNEY: I've got to take a little bit more time, a little more seriousness.

My -- nothing wrong with what you said -- I'm sorry.

My wife is also a mom, as I pointed out early on, but in some respects, she is a real champion and a fighter. She was diagnosed in 1998 with Multiple Sclerosis, and more recently with breast cancer. She has battled both successfully. And as first lady, she will be able to reach out to people who are also struggling and suffering and will be someone who shows compassion and care.

And she's also had a passion all of her adult life on helping people in troubled situations, young women in particular, understand the importance of getting married before they have babies and encouraging people to create families to raise kids in.

(APPLAUSE)

GINGRICH: Let me say, first of all, having gotten to know them, I think all three of the wives represented here would be terrific first ladies. Callista and I have gotten to know all three of them, and we think they'd be fabulous people. So I would rather just to talk about why I like Callista, and why I'd like her to be first lady, but she's not necessarily in any way better. These are wonderful people, and they would be wonderful first ladies.

But Callista brings a couple of things. One is a tremendous artistic focus. She's done a video in music education, why it really matters. She's a pianist by background, plays the French horn in a community band, sings in the choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. She really cares about the arts and would bring a really strong feeling for music education and for art, and why it matters to people as part of their education.

She's also very patriotic about American exceptionalism. She's had a best-selling "New York Times" book, children's book, and has really reached out to young people to get them to understand America.

And she's helped produce and host seven movies now, so she would bring an entire, I think, artistic flavor.

But -- and I, obviously, would be thrilled to be able to hang out with her at the White House. So it would be good.

BLITZER: And I suspect you would be.

Unfortunately, Senator Santorum, your wife is not here tonight.

SANTORUM: Yeah, she's not. She's -- she's doing what she does incredibly well, which is to be a mother to our seven children. And she is -- she's my hero. She's someone who has been, you know, well- educated. She was a neo-natal intensive care nurse for nine years at one of the most advanced nurseries in the -- in the country.

She went on to, because she saw all these ethical challenges there, so she went on and got a law degree so she could -- she could deal with those in the -- in the legal world.

And then when she got married, she gave that up; she walked away and walked into something that she felt called to do, which was to be a mom and to be a wife. And we've -- we've had eight children. We are blessed to be raising seven. We've been through a lot together, losing a child, having a child with a disability that we have now, our little Bella.

And the -- the amount of love for these special kids is just palpable in her.

She wrote a book about our son that we lost called "Letters to Gabriel," about that ordeal that we went through. That book, that little book has saved countless -- I don't -- we know of at least hundreds of lives that were saved because people read that book and realized that the child they we're carrying had the dignity to be love and nurtured irrespective of what malady may have -- may have befallen that baby in the womb. And so many children were born and are alive today because of that book.

She's also written a book on manners. That's something that I -- I -- we have seven children, so we know that kids are not born good. And...

(LAUGHTER)

... and so manners is very important in our house. And she wrote a storybook because there were all sorts of how-to books on manners but there was no storybook, teaching manners through, well, how Christ taught us, through stories. And -- and that's what she did. And that book has hopefully somewhat civilized some children around this country.

(LAUGHTER)

BLITZER: Very nice.

All right, let's get back to the debate -- the debate now.

(APPLAUSE)

Governor Romney, you criticized Speaker Gingrich for not being as close to Ronald Reagan as he says he was. When you ran for the Senate, you said you were, quote, "You weren't trying to return to Reagan-Bush."

So the question is, do you think you can claim the Reagan mantle more than Speaker Gingrich?

ROMNEY: Oh, of course not. No, I -- I was -- at the time Ronald Reagan was -- was president, I was just getting started. I went through school, came out of school, got my first job, worked my way up in a consulting company, and then, after awhile, started a business of my own. I was looking at politics from afar and learning as time went on.

I didn't get involved in politics early in my life. I instead spent my time building a business. And then later, as my business had been successful and we'd been involved in some turnaround situations, some businesses in trouble that we were able to help -- not all worked out as we'd hoped, but a number did -- I got asked to go off and help get the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002 on track and put aside my business and went -- went to Utah. And it was perhaps the greatest professional experience of my life, going there and spending three years helping getting those games on track.

I -- I happen to believe the Olympics is one of the great showcases of the -- of the human spirit that exists in the media world. And it was very successful. And then -- and then, after that, I was asked by some friends to come back and run for governor, did that. And that's when I became terribly politically involved.

And in that involvement, I learned a lot of lessons. Being governor taught me a lot of things. I became more conservative, by the way, as I was governor, and found the importance of lowering taxes, making it easier for businesses to grow, the importance of driving schools to be the best in the country. Those are the things I did.

And so I'm not suggesting -- the speaker was a congressman at the time Ronald Reagan was president, so he -- he, of course, was closer to the Ronald Reagan era than I.

BLITZER: Mr. Speaker, you've heard the criticism lately that you weren't necessarily as close to the president as you suggest?