ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Standing mere paces apart, Republican
presidential hopefuls Mitt Romney and Rick Perry sarcastically
accused each other in a confrontational debate Thursday night of
flip-flopping on Social Security and health care, flashpoints in
their early struggle for the party nomination
Romney accused Perry of having said the federal government
"shouldn't be in the pension business, that it's
unconstitutional," a reference to Social Security benefits.
The Texas governor disputed the charge, saying it "wasn't the
first time Mitt's been wrong on some issue before." But Romney
mocked his rival's denial, adding crisply, "You better find that
Rick Perry and get him to stop saying that."
Perry soon returned the favor, saying that Romney switched his
position on health care between editions of a book he had
published. In one edition, Perry said, Romney advocated expanding
the health care program he signed in Massachusetts to the rest of
the country. "Then in your paperback you took that line out, so
speaking of not getting it straight in your book, Sir."
"It's like badminton," said Perry.
The Massachusetts legislation required residents of the state to
purchase health coverage or pay a fine, a cornerstone of the law
that President Barack Obama won from Congress last year that has
inflamed conservative voters across the country.
The two men run one-two in the public opinion polls - Perry
ahead, Romney a close second - and compete daily for endorsements
from members of Congress and other party luminaries in hopes of
gaining a permanent edge before the caucuses and primaries begin
early next year.
Perry gave no ground on one issue - his support for a state law
in Texas that gives the children of illegal immigrants reduced
tuition to state colleges and universities.
"If you say that we should not educate children who have come
into the state for no other reason than they've been brought there,
by no fault of their own, I don't think you have a heart," he
That drew a retort from former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum.
"No one is suggesting that students who are illegal in this
country shouldn't go to colleges and universities," he said,
adding that he objects to giving them state subsidies to do so.
"Most folks have to pay the full boat. ... Why should they be
given preferential treatment as an illegal in this country?" he
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)