In Monday night’s GOP presidential candidate debate in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, front-runner Mitt Romney described his approach to Medicare, which includes charging wealthier recipients more and including ‘premium supports.’ He also attacked the health law, the only candidate on the stage to discuss the law. Former Sen. Rick Santorum and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich both challenged Romney. The S.C. primary is on Saturday.
Here is a transcript of the health care parts of the debate, which was sponsored by Fox News, The Wall Street Journal and the South Carolina Republican Party:
BRET BAIER, Fox News: Welcome back to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and the Republican presidential debate.
We are getting questions from Twitter. Governor Romney — Governor Huntsman endorsed you today. But in New Hampshire he called you a, quote, “perfectly lubricated weather vane on the important issues of the day.” And just last week, Governor Huntsman charged that it’s hard to find your core. Which leads to our first Twitter question.
From MissinDixie, quote, “I want to support Mitt Romney, but considering his changing views, convince me you won’t change again.”
MITT ROMNEY: You know, the issue where I change my mind, which obviously draws a lot of attention was that when I was running for governor, I said I would leave the law in place as it related to abortion. And I thought I could go in that narrow path between my personal belief and letting government stay out of the issue.
Then a piece of legislation came to my desk and it said we would begin to create embryos for the purpose of destroying those embryos, and I said I simply couldn’t sign something like that. And I penned an op-ed in the Boston Globe and said I’m pro-life, described my view and served as a pro-life governor.
The Massachusetts Citizens for Life have just written a letter last week describing my record and saying this is a solid record of a very pro-life governor. I’m proud of that record.
GERALD SEIB, The Wall Street Journal: Governor Romney, in the book you wrote just before this campaign began, you said you were surprised that the press in the last campaign didn’t press for more specifics on how to fix Social Security and Medicare, so let’s fix that tonight. Let me ask you specifically: Would you reduce the cost of these programs by raising the retirement age for Social Security, by raising the eligibility age for Medicare, or by reducing benefits for seniors with higher incomes?
ROMNEY: Let me lay it out. First of all, for the people who are already retired or 55 years of age and older, nothing changes. It’s very important, because I know the Democrats are going to be showing videos of, you know, old people being thrown off cliffs and so forth. But don’t forget…
Don’t forget who it was that cut Medicare by $500 billion, and that was President Obama to pay for Obamacare. So let’s not forget that.
What — what I would do with Social Security is that I would lower — if you will, the 2.0, the version for the next generations coming up, I’d lower the rate of inflation growth in the benefits received by higher-income recipients and keep the rate as it is now pretty high for lower income recipients. And I’d also add a year or two to the retirement age under Social Security. That balances Social Security.
ROMNEY: With regards to Medicare, I would lay out the plan that — well, I actually did a couple of months ago that said, again, for higher-income recipients, lower benefit, a premium support program which allows people to buy either current standard Medicare or a private plan.
And this is the proposal which Congressman Paul Ryan has adopted. It’s a proposal which I believe is absolutely right on. We have a premium support program. Give people choice. Let competition exist in our Medicare program by virtue of the two things that I’ve described: higher benefits for lower-income people, lower benefits for higher-income people and making a premium support program in Medicare and in — and Social Security a slightly higher retirement age. You balance those two programs.
By the way, the third major entitlement, Medicaid, you send back to the states. And the fourth new entitlement, ObamaCare, you repeal that one and finally get our balance sheet right.
BAIER: Speaker Gingrich. Speaker Gingrich, the plan that you have endorsed for addressing Social Security, you suggest also that younger workers should be allowed to put their tax money into private accounts rather than into the government program.
But that plan also says that if those private accounts don’t pay out as much as the government program would, Washington should cut a check to make up the difference. Is that really a free market outcome if the government guarantees the outcome?
NEWT GINGRICH: Well, it is, as a historian, a fact-based model that has Galveston, Texas, and the entire country of Chile as testing grounds. Chile has done this. Jose Pinera’s (ph) glad to talk about it, the guy who created it, they have done it for over 30 years.
First of all, it’s totally voluntary. If you want to stay in the current system, stay in it. If you are younger and you want to go and take a personal savings account, which would be a Social Security savings account, you can take it.
Your share of the tax goes into that. The employer’s share goes into the regular fund to pay for the regular fund. The historic record in Chile is the average young person gets two to three times the retirement income. In 30 years they have never written a single check, because nobody has fallen below the minimum payment of Social Security, and these are historic facts.
They now have 74 percent of the GDP in their savings fund, so much that they now allow people to actually invest outside the country. The principal group in Des Moines, Iowa, actually runs part of this program, and I actually interviewed the person who is in charge of it for the principal group.
So the Social Security actuary estimate if you make it a voluntary program, 95 to 97 percent of young people will take the program, because it is such a big return on your investment, you’d be relatively stupid not to do it. OK.
GINGRICH: Now, what does it do? It gets the government out of telling you when to retire. It gets the government out of picking winners and losers. You save — it makes every American an investor when they first go to work. They all have a buildup of an estate, which you do not get in the current system.
And the estimate by Martin Prostein (ph) at Harvard is, who was Reagan’s chief counsel and economic advisors, was you actually reduce wealth inequality in America by 50 percent over the next generation because everybody becomes a saver and an investor and you have a universal investing nation.
BAIER: Senator Santorum, Senator Santorum, in your jobs program you propose to eliminate the corporate income tax for manufacturers, but not for other businesses. Isn’t that picking winners and losers in the same way the Obama administration did when it gave grants to one solar energy company, Solyndra, and it went bankrupt?
RICK SANTORUM: No, it’s not. What we do is cut corporate taxes for everybody. We cut it from 35 percent to 17.5 percent, make it a — basically a net profits tax. And then we take the area of the economy that’s under competition from overseas for our jobs. The rest of the economy is not being shipped off like the mills here in South Carolina were to other countries around the world because of foreign competition.
Why? The foreign competition that we are dealing with right now is much cheaper to do business, excluding labor costs than we are, about 20 percent more, and that 20 percent differential is government. It’s government regulation and it’s also government taxation.
So part of what we are trying to do is to have a government system that can compete with who our competitor is. The competitor at the local drugstore is not China. The competitor is other people.
And as long as that is level and everybody’s paying, the big corporations and the little ones — and that’s why we have a flat 171/2 percent — so we keep the little guys paying the same rate as the big guys who have — right now, with this very complex code, a lot of folks in there trying to reduce rates by using the tax code to shrink their tax liability.
So we’ve leveled the playing field for the guys here in this country and we’ve created a competitive environment for the manufacturer. I want to make a point about Newt and his plans because they are not bold. And they’re not — in the case of Governor Romney.
SANTORUM: And they are — and they’re irresponsible. And I say that against Newt because there’s nobody for the last 15 years that’s been more in favor of personal savings accounts than I have for Social Security. But we were doing that when we had a surplus in Social Security. We are now running a deficit in Social Security. We are now running a huge deficit in this country.
Under Congressman Gingrich’s proposals, if he’s right, that 95 percent of younger workers taken, there will be hundreds of billions of dollars in increased debt, hundreds of billions of more debt being put on the books, which we can’t simply — we’re going to be borrowing money from China to fund these accounts, which is wrong. I’m for those accounts, but first we have to get our fiscal house in order, balance this budget and then create the opportunity that Newt wants. But the idea of doing that now, is fiscal insanity.
BAIER: Speaker Gingrich?
SANTORUM: And Mitt Romney’s plan is simply not bold. We have a deficit now in Social Security. We have deficits now in Medicare. And he wants to say, well we’re not going to touch anybody now. There’s 60,000 people in this country who are earning over $1 million a year as a senior and he’s saying, no let’s not touch them. I’m saying, yes. We should absolutely do something about people who don’t need Social Security when we’re borrowing money from China to pay those millionaires.
BAIER: Okay, first Speaker Gingrich, your response?
GINGRICH: Well if you actually look at the plan at newt.org, you’ll see that one of the ways we pay for it is we take 185 different federal bureaucracies that deal with low income Americans. Think about this, there are 185 separate bureaucracies with separate regulations, all dealing with low income Americans. We can consolidate them into a single block grant. We send it back to the states and we take the billions of dollars in federal overhead that saves and put that into Social Security in order to make up the difference.
So in fact Rick, it is a very sound plan and I say this as somebody who helped balance the budget four times in a row.
BAIER: Quickly. Quickly.
SANTORUM: Newt, I support that idea. But we need that to reduce the deficit we have now, not doing what you’re suggesting, which is ballooning the deficit by hundreds of billions of dollars more and then using things that we should be doing now to strengthen this budget deficit, to add more fiscal — financial responsibility on to the federal government.
BAIER: Last one.
GINGRICH: Okay, Martin Feldstein estimates that if you have a personal savings account model, you increase the size of the economy by $7 to $8 trillion over a generation because of the massive reinvestment. In addition, I would just suggest having helped balance the budget for four consecutive years, for the only time in your lifetime, I’m reasonably confident I can find ways to balance the budget.
GINGRICH: Without hurting young people and blocking them from Social Security.
BAIER: Governor Romney, do you want your 30 seconds? Or are you just enjoying this back and forth? Would you like to weigh in?
ROMNEY: Rick is right. I — I know it’s popular here to say, oh we could just — we can do this and it’s not going to cost anything. But look, it’s going to get tough to get our federal spending from the current 25 percent of the GDP down to 20, down to 18 percent, which has been our history. We’ve got a huge number of obligations in this country and cutting back is going to have to happen. I know something about balancing budgets.
In the private sector, you don’t have a choice. You balance your budget, or you go out of business. And we — we simply can’t say we’re going to go out and borrow more money to let people set up new accounts that take money away from Social Security and Medicare today. Therefore, we should allow people to have a voluntary account, a voluntary savings program, tax free. That’s why I’ve said anybody middle income should be able to save their money tax free. No tax on interest, dividends or capital gains.
That will get American’s saving and accomplishes your objective, Mr. Speaker, without threatening the future of America’s vitality by virtue of fiscal insanity.
GERALD SEIB: Speaker Gingrich, a super PAC supporting Governor Romney is running an ad here citing a pro-life’s group charge that you voted for a bill in Congress, co-sponsored by Nancy Pelosi, that supported China’s one-child policy. And they say that means you provided government funding for abortion, but you oppose abortion. What’s your response to that charge?
GINGRICH: Well, this is typical of what both Senator Santorum and I have complained about with Governor Romney’s super PAC, over which he apparently has no influence, which makes you wonder how much influence he’d have if he were president.
Well, let me take that particular bill. That bill was introduced by Claudine Schneider, who is a Republican from Rhode Island. It was introduced at a time when Ronald Reagan’s Mexico City policy was enforced. The Mexico City policy said no U.S. funding will be used to fund any activity that relates to abortion.
So it is explicitly a falsehood to suggest that a bill introduced under Mexico City policy would have paid for China’s one-child policy. In fact, I have explicitly opposed it. I have a 98.6 percent National Right to Life voting record in 20 years. And the only vote we disagreed on was welfare reform, which had nothing to do with abortion. So I think it is an absurdity and it would be nice if Governor Romney would exercise leadership on his former staff and his major donors to take falsehoods off the air.