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GOP candidates: Fix US economy or fail like Europe

ROCHESTER, Mich. (AP) - United in agreement for once, Republican
presidential rivals warned forcefully Wednesday night the United
States could be doomed to the same sort of financial crisis that is
afflicting Europe unless federal deficits are drastically cut and
the economy somehow revived.

Though sexual harassment allegations facing Herman Cain have
dominated the GOP campaign for more than a week, the debate in
economically ailing Michigan focused almost entirely on financial
worries and proposed solutions in the U.S.

The candidates generally stuck to practiced speech lines - with
a late exception. In the middle of one answer, Texas Gov. Rick
Perry found himself unable to recall the names of all three of the
Cabinet-level agencies he wants to eliminate, even leaning over to
Rep. Ron Paul for help at one point.

"The third agency of government I would do away with - the
Education, the Commerce. And let's see. I can't. The third one I
can't. Oops," he said, forgetting for a moment that he wants to
abolish the Department of Energy.

On one specific issue that Congress must address soon, the
candidates generally backed an extension of the Social Security
payroll tax cut scheduled to expire at the end of the year. That
was a rare moment of accord with President Barack Obama and many congressional Democrats, who have been warning that consumers could be hurt if the reduction is not renewed.

"I'm not prepared to raise taxes on working Americans in the
middle of a recession that's this bad," said former House Speaker
Newt Gingrich, a sentiment quickly seconded by former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

Perry disagreed, and Rep. Michelle Bachmann of Minnesota said
she opposed the one-year reduction when it was approved late last
year. She said it had so far "blown a hole of $100 billion in the
Social Security trust fund."

Asked about Europe's financial troubles, the candidates seemed
to speak with one voice in saying Italy and other European
countries should rise or fall on their own without any American
bailout. And several of the White House hopefuls warned that unless
U.S. deficits are cut and the economy invigorated, America is
headed for the same type of downward spiral.

"Europe is able to take care of their own problems. We don't
want to step in and bail out their banks and their economies,"
former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said as he and GOP rivals met for the first time in three weeks in campaign debate.

Even so, he said the United States should continue contributing
to organizations like the International Monetary Fund that are
working to prevent a meltdown in troubled economies overseas.,

Paul was more emphatic about the debt. "You have to let it
liquidate. We took 40 years to build up this worldwide debt," he
added.

Cain said there wasn't much the United States could do to
directly to help Italy at present because the economy there is in
such difficult shape. "We need to focus on the economy or we will
fail," he said, referring to the U.S. and calling for spending
cuts, a strong dollar and measures to stimulate growth.

The Cain accusations did come up, though briefly.

"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in
the court of public opinion due to unfounded accusations," he said
when the question came up early in the debate. "I value my
character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every
one person that comes forward with an unfair accusation there are
probably, there are thousands who come forward and say none of that ever happened with Herman Cain."

Romney, a former venture capitalist, was asked if he would keep
Cain on the job as a CEO given the accusations. He responded,
"Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just
did."

On another point, Cain felt it necessary to make a post-debate
apology to House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, whom he had called "Princess Nancy" for sidetracking Republican legislation when she was speaker.

The announced topic for the evening was the economy, a subject
that produced few if any early sparks among rivals who often spar
energetically.

Perry, Gingrich, Bachmann and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick
Santorum joined Romney, Cain, Paul and Huntsman on stage at Oakland University in Michigan, a state where unemployment is 11.1 percent and well above the national 9 percent jobless rate.

The debate took place less than two months before Iowa's kickoff
caucuses, as the pace of campaign activity accelerates and public
opinion polls suggest the race remains quite fluid. Romney and Cain
currently share co-front-runner status in most surveys, with Perry
and Gingrich roughly tied for third, within striking distance.

Not surprisingly, none of the contenders found much to like in
Obama's economic stewardship.

Perry said the next president should systematically judge all of
the government regulations enacted since Obama took office on a
standard of whether they created jobs. Any that failed should be
repealed, he said.

Bachmann sharply criticized Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. She said
the latter had recently given multimillion-dollar bonuses to
executives even though it was seeking a new federal bailout.

Gingrich, who last held public office more than a decade ago,
bristled when asked what advice his company had given Freddie Mac
for a $300,000 fee. "Advice on precisely what they didn't do," he
shot back - stop backing mortgages to applicants who aren't
credit-worthy.

The government rescued mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie
Mac in September 2008 to cover their losses on soured mortgage
loans. Since then, a federal regulator has controlled their
financial decisions.

The cost to taxpayers so far has been about $169 billion, the
most expensive bailout of the financial crisis.

There was only scant mention of the Michigan auto industry,
which benefited in 2008 and 2009 from a federal bailout that both
President George W. Bush and Obama backed.

All eight Republicans on the debate stage say they wouldn't have
offered government assistance.

Not so Obama, who stood outside a factory not far from the
debate site recently and said government bailouts of General Motors
and Chrysler were a success that saved thousands of American jobs.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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