In Debate, Obama and Romney Clash Over Who Would Do More for Education

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Obama wave at the start of Wednesday night’s debate at the U. of Denver (Reuters/Rick Wilking/Landov).

In the first presidential debate of this fall’s campaign, which focused on domestic policy, President Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney, sparred over their tax plans, the federal deficit, Wall Street regulation, and health care.

Throughout the 90-minute debate Wednesday evening at the University of Denver, both candidates mentioned education several times in relation to its role in resolving the nation’s economic problems, and they sometimes traded barbs over whose policies would actually invest in education.

Mr. Obama charged that Mr. Romney’s economic plan would offer tax breaks to the richest Americans. Such a plan, he said, “will not grow our economy because the only way to pay for it without either burdening the middle class or blowing up our deficit is to make drastic cuts in things like education” and investments in “basic science and research.”

Later, Mr. Obama added that Mr. Romney’s plans to cut the federal deficit represented an “unbalanced approach that would gut our investment in schools and education.”

Mr. Romney rejected that notion.

“I’m not going to cut education funding,” he said. He added that he had no plans to cut “grants that go to people going to college,” saying instead that he wanted those to grow.

Mr. Romney also suggested that Mr. Obama’s economic policies were failing recent college graduates who face a difficult job market, saying that 50 percent of college graduates cannot find work.

Briefly discussing the issue of college affordability, Mr. Obama touted his administration’s efforts to make it easier for students to pay for college, citing increases in federal student aid and the end of the bank-based student-loan program, which he described as a sweetheart deal for banks at taxpayer expense.

He also reiterated his goal of providing job-training for two million more Americans through partnerships between businesses and community colleges.

Mr. Obama again criticized Mr. Romney for suggesting at a campaign rally that borrowing money from one’s parents was a way to pay for college. Many students, like himself, “just don’t have that option,” the president said.

Land-grant colleges, which are typically not a go-to talking point in either candidate’s stump speeches, were also referenced briefly.

Mr. Obama praised the advent of land-grant colleges during the Civil War as an example of the proper role of the federal government. “As Abraham Lincoln understood, there are some things we do better together,” he said.

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