Candidates Face Off In "Town Hall" Debate

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Barack Obama and John McCain clashed
repeatedly over the causes and cures for the worst economic crisis
in 80 years Tuesday night in a debate in which Republican McCain
called for a sweeping $300 billion program to shield homeowners
from mortgage foreclosure.
"It's my proposal. It's not Sen. Obama's proposal, it's not
President Bush's proposal," McCain said at the outset of a debate
he hoped could revive his fortunes in a presidential race trending
toward his rival.
In one pointed confrontation on foreign policy, Obama bluntly
challenged McCain's steadiness. "This is a guy who sang bomb,
bomb, bomb Iran, who called for the annihilation of North Korea -
that I don't think is an example of speaking softly."
That came after McCain accused him of foolishly threatening to
invade Pakistan and said, "I'm not going to telegraph my punches,
which is what Sen. Obama did."
The debate was the second of three between the two major party
rivals, and the only one to feature a format in which voters seated
a few feet away posed questions to the candidates.
They were polite, but the strain of the campaign showed. At one
point, McCain referred to Obama as "that one," rather than
speaking his name.
"It's good to be with you at a town hall meeting," McCain also
jabbed at his rival, who has spurned the Republican's calls for
numerous such joint appearances across the fall campaign.
They debated on a stage at Belmont University four weeks before
Election Day in a race that has lately favored Obama, both in
national polls and in surveys in pivotal battleground states.
Not surprisingly, many of the questions dealt with an economy in
Obama said the current crisis was the "final verdict on the
failed economic policies of the last eight years" that President
Bush pursued and were "supported by Sen. McCain."
He contended that Bush, McCain and others had favored
deregulation of the financial industry, predicting that would "let
markets run wild and prosperity would rain down on all of us. It
didn't happen."
McCain's pledge to have the government help individual
homeowners avoid foreclosure went considerably beyond the $700
billion bailout that recently cleared Congress. While he said
bailout money should be used to help homeowners, the bailout
legislation merely gave the Treasury Department authority to
purchase mortgages directly.
"I would order the secretary of the Treasury to immediately buy
up the bad home loan mortgages in America and renegotiate at the
new value of those homes at the diminished value of those homes and
let people be able to make those payments and stay in their
homes," he said.
"Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we
stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start
turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy, and we've
got to get some trust and confidence back to America."
McCain also said it was important to reform the giant benefit
programs such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security.
"My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the same
benefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees have
today," he said, although he did not elaborate.
The two men also competed to demonstrate their qualifications as
reformers at a time voters are clamoring for change.
McCain accused Obama of being the Senate's second-highest
recipient of donations from individuals at Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac, the two now-disgraced mortgage industry giants.
"There were some of us who stood up against it," McCain said
of the lead-up to the financial crisis. "There were others who
took a hike."
Obama shot back that McCain's campaign manager, Rick Davis, has
a stake in a Washington lobbying firm that received thousands of
dollars a month from Freddie Mac until recently.
Pivoting quickly to show his concern with members of the
audience listening from a few feet away, he said, "You're not
interested in politicians pointing fingers. What you're interested
in is trying to figure out, how is this going to impact you."
But that didn't stop the two men from criticizing one another
repeatedly as the topics turned to energy, spending, taxes and
health care.
Obama said McCain was going to require taxes on the health
benefits workers receive from their employers at the same time his
plan would wipe out the ability of states to enforce their own
regulations to require tests such as mammograms.
McCain countered that under his rival's plan "Sen. Obama will
fine you" if parents fail to obtain coverage for their children
but had yet to say what the fine would be. "Perhaps we will find
that out tonight," he said.
Obama quickly followed up, saying that McCain "voted against
the expansion" of the children's health care program the
government runs.
The two men prefer dramatically different approaches to easing
the problem of millions of uninsured Americans. McCain favors a
$5,000 tax credit that he says would allow families to find and
afford health care on their own.
Obama wants to build on the current system, in which millions
receive coverage through the workplace, with government funding to
help uninsured families obtain coverage.
Obama also said that American International Group Inc., which
was bailed out by the government, should give the Treasury $440,000
to cover the costs of a company retreat at a posh California resort
less than a week after the federal intervention. "Those executives
should be fired," he said, referring to the participants in the
The debate also veered into foreign policy, and the disputes
were as intense as on the economy and domestic matters.
McCain said his rival "was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He
was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against
Georgia. And in his short career he does not understand our
national security challenges. We don't have time for on the job
Obama countered with a trace of sarcasm that he didn't
understand some things - like how the United States could face the
challenge in does in Afghanistan after spending years and hundreds
of billions of dollars in Iraq.
The audience was selected by Gallup, the polling organization,
and was split three ways among voters leaning toward McCain, those
leaning toward Obama and those undecided.
Tom Brokaw of NBC, the moderator, screened their questions and
also chose others that had been submitted online.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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