Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Elections 2012: Wrapping Up the Denver Debate – Big Bird, Budgets and Back to the States

The stark differences between the two presidential candidates, incumbent Barack Obama and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, popped up in nearly every segment.

Romney is against Obamacare. Of course the president is for it. Romney wants health care reform to be crafted state by state. (Leaving open the question where tribes and the Indian Health system fit into that equation.)

Same with energy and the environment. Obama is for investing in alternative energy such as wind and solar. Romney the contrary. On two issues that have significant impact on Indian country – the Keystone pipeline and coal – Romney was eager. “I’m for coal,” he said proudly.

Much of the back and forth was about taxes and the nuances of those proposals. Romney changed his story on Wednesday. He said, over and over, that his plan did not cut $5 trillion. “I don’t have a tax cut of the scale you’re talking about. I think we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I won’t reduce the share of tax paid by high-income people,” Romney said. “My number one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that no tax cut that will add to the deficit.”

Even if the big number is off consider this: The Tax Policy Center says there is no way to meet all five of Romney’s objectives at the same time.

On television folks will be talking about who won, who lost, what sort of body language they had, and their zingers. Romney was read with his, dismissing “trickle down government.” He also said: “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own house and your own airplane, but not your own facts.”

Obama’s best line was about Romney’s changing tax proposal. “For 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan and now, five weeks before the election, he is saying that his big, bold idea is … never mind.”

However the best zinger on the other side might have come from Politifact. It said Romney’s line on Obamacare as a government takeover was the 2011 lie of the year.

Indian country was, of course, not a part of the debate. But the role of the Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Romney said he would like states to run these programs as part of a block grant. But the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said to do that would require very large cuts. If Medicare was exempted, as Romney said, the cuts would have to be some 32 percent in 2016 and 53 percent in 2022. Many tribal health facilities rely on Medicaid for a substantial portion of funding – in some cases more than the Indian Health Service itself. Moreover states, not the federal government, determine eligibility even for a tribal facility. That said perhaps Romney’s logic could be extended to tribes, allowing tribes to receive Medicaid money as block grants.

Another program Romney promised to cut: Public Broadcasting. “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said. “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.”

Will the Denver debate change any minds? Fewer voters than in recent elections are undecided. Especially the Romney campaign is hoping that enough people saw the debate and then will change their minds. Will it work? That will be determined over the next few days in national polls. And, more important, over the next month when people vote for one candidate or the other.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is: marktrahant@thecedarsgroup.org.

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Elections 2012: Wrapping Up the Denver Debate – Big Bird, Budgets and Back to the States

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