Bachmann, Romney chip away at Perry in tea party debate
Tea party members in Monday’s debate audience veered between euphoric approval and brutal disdain of the Republican presidential candidates battling for their support onstage. Rivals, including U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, found openings in the armor of front-runner and tea party favorite Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who drew jeers from the crowd on issues ranging from immigration to mandated inoculation.
Social Security was one of the first issues broached in the debate, which was sponsored by CNN and Tea Party Express. All candidates agreed that the system needed to be reformed, while Perry backpedaled from his statements in the last debate where he characterized Social Security as a Ponzi scheme. Mitt Romney pounced on Perry’s rhetoric, calling it “over-the-top, unnecessary and frightening to people,” a critique that mostly fell flat with tea partiers.
Bachmann said the United States has to return to a concept of personal responsibility in regards to programs like Social Security.
“We’re the ‘everybody else’ that’s paying the freight for all of these things, that’s the principle that has to change,” Bachmann said. “We have to be an ownership society.”
Bachmann found space in the debate when she criticized Perry for a Texas program that inoculated 12-year-old girls against HPV, a virus that’s connected to a higher incidence of cervical cancer. Perry said the program grew out of his pro-life beliefs. Bachmann said “there was a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate,” and criticized Perry’s former chief of staff, who had lobbied for the drug company.
“The company was Merck, and it was $5,000 I had received from them,” Perry said in response. “I raised about $30 million. If you’re saying I can be bought for $5,000, I’m offended.”
Bachmann shot back: “I’m offended for all the little girls and their parents that didn’t have a choice.”
Perry also took heat from a handful of candidates for a Texas program that allows the children of undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges, and for stating that a border fence across Texas wasn’t practical.
“Of course we build a fence, and of course we do not give in-state tuition credits to people who’ve come here illegally,” said Romney, garnering one of his few cheers of the night from tea partiers.
Perry said the legislation was an attempt to send a message to young people that they’re a productive member of society regardless of the “sound of their last name.”
“The American way is not to give taxpayer subsidized benefits to people who’ve broken our laws,” according to Bachmann, who said immigrants need to “speak the English language, learn American history and the Constitution.”
The eight candidates agreed on many of the other issues, including lowering taxes, repealing the Patient Protection and Affordable Health Care Act and shrinking government.
All candidates also agreed on auditing the Federal Reserve, although Perry said Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke should be tried for treason, a statement that other candidates backed away from despite rapturous applause from tea partiers.