- The Washington Times - Monday, September 12, 2011

Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Mitt Romney picked up Monday night where they left off in their last debate encounter, with the two GOP heavyweights engaging in a testy exchange over Social Security.

Mr. Romney tried to put Mr. Perry on the spot, after the three-term Texas governor refused to back off his repeated description of Social Security as a “Ponzi scheme.”

“The real question is, does Governor Perry continue to believe that Social Security should not be a federal program, that it’s unconstitutional, and it should be returned to the states? Or is he going to retreat from that view?” Mr. Romney said, repeating the question several times.

Mr. Perry said, “Obviously, we’re not going to take the program away.”

“The issue is, are there ways to move states in Social Security for state employees or retirees. I think those types of thoughtful conversations with America, rather than try and scare seniors, like you’re doing, and other people, it is time to have a legitimate conversation in this country about how to fix that program so it’s not bankrupt and our children actually know that there is going to be a retirement program for them,” Mr. Perry said.

The exchanged kicked off a debate in which the eight Republicans in the field squared off at the Florida State Fairgrounds in Tampa for the first of two debates over the next 12 days in the Sunshine State, which could play an vital role in selecting who will go on to challenge President Obama in the 2012 election.

Texas Rep. Ron Paul, Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain also participated in the debate, during which they responded to a variety of questions, from the role of the Federal Reserve to illegal immigration and national security.

Sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express, the event came a few days after Mr. Obama rolled out a $447 billion jobs plan before a joint session of Congress. With the latest jobs report showing no new growth in August and the unemployment rate stuck at around 9.1 percent, it is becoming clear that Mr. Obama — as well as the GOP field — have a lot riding on the jobs debate in the coming months.

The Democratic National Committee began airing televisions ads Monday urging voters in key swing states to rally behind the new plan, dubbed the “American Jobs Act.” Mr. Obama also is embarking on a public relations tour this week, stopping to pitch the plan Tuesday in Ohio, House Speaker John A. Boehner’s backyard, and then Wednesday in North Carolina.

With that as a backdrop, the plan came under intense fire from the GOP field on Monday night.

Mr. Perry warned the president planned to pay for the jobs plan by raising taxes and that it was a slimmed-down version of the stimulus package, which he said “created zero jobs.”

“I can do that math on that one,” he said, referring to the president’s plan. “Half of zero jobs is zero jobs.”

Mr. Perry and Mr. Romney, the top two contenders in national polls, who stood side-by-side in the debate, claimed some high-profile endorsements in the hours before the debate opened Monday. Mr. Perry won the support of Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal and Mr. Romney picked up the support of Tim Pawlenty, the former Minnesota governor who left the race after a disappointing third place finish last month in the Ames, Iowa, straw poll.

For Mr. Perry, the debate Monday event marked his second chance to mix it up with his GOP rivals and to show voters that he can live up to his first place standing in national polls.

Mr. Perry introduced himself to a national audience last week in a debate at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley, Calif., where he stumbled through questions about global warming and came under fire for refusing to back off his characterization of Social Security as a “failure” and a “Ponzi Scheme,” the same language he used to describe the program in his book “Fed Up!”

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