Romney: ‘I Love Big Bird,’ But No More Money for PBS

By Susan Jones | October 4, 2012 | 4:55 AM EDT

Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney waves to audience members following the first presidential debate with President Barack Obama at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

( – Gov. Mitt Romney, asked what he would do about the federal deficit and the federal debt, said Obamacare and PBS are on his hit list because they don’t meet his test:

“Is the program so critical it's worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I'll get rid of it,” Romney said.

“Obamacare's on my list,” Romney said, turning to President Obama: “I use that term with all respect,” Romney told him.

“I like it,” Obama said.

“Good,” Romney responded. “OK, good. So I’ll get rid of that.”

Then Romney addressed moderator Jim Lehrer:

“I’m sorry, Jim, I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I'm going to stop other things. I like PBS, I love Big Bird. Actually like you, too. But I'm not going to -- I'm not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for. That's number one.

“Number two, I'll take programs that are currently good programs but I think could be run more efficiently at the state level and send them to the state.

“Number three, I'll make government more efficient and to cut back the number of employees, combine some agencies and departments. My cutbacks will be done through attrition, by the way.

“This is the approach we have to take to get America to a balanced budget,” Romney said.

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Romney said there are “three ways” to cut a deficit – raising taxes, cutting spending and growing the economy so the tax base expands.

While Obama “would prefer raising taxes,” Romney said that’s a problem because it slows growth. “And you could never quite get the job done.”

“I want to lower spending and encourage economic growth at the same time,” Romney said. He then listed specific spending cuts mentioned above.

Deficit a 'moral issue'

Romney also framed the ballooning federal deficit as “not just an economic issue,” but a “moral issue.”

“I think it's, frankly, not moral for my generation to keep spending massively more than we take in, knowing those burdens are going to be passed on to the next generation and they're going to be paying the interest and the principal all their lives. And the amount of debt we're adding, at a trillion a year, is simply not moral.”

Romney noted that President Obama said he’d halve the deficit, but – “Unfortunately, he doubled it. Trillion-dollar deficits for the last four years. The president's put it in place as much public debt -- almost as much debt held by the public as all prior presidents combined.”

In his two minute response, President Obama discussed the “more than trillion-dollar deficit” that he inherited.

“And we know where it came from: two wars that were paid for on a credit card; two tax cuts that were not paid for; and a whole bunch of programs that were not paid for; and then a massive economic crisis.”

Obama said he had to take “emergency measures” to avoid a “great depression,” and he said he cut programs that weren’t helping the economy grow:

“So 77 government programs, everything from aircrafts that the Air Force had ordered but weren't working very well, 18 government -- 18 government programs for education that were well-intentioned, not weren't helping kids learn, we went after medical fraud in Medicare and Medicaid very aggressively, more aggressively than ever before, and have saved tens of billions of dollars, $50 billion of waste taken out of the system.

“And I worked with Democrats and Republicans to cut a trillion dollars out of our discretionary domestic budget. That's the largest cut in the discretionary domestic budget since Dwight Eisenhower.

More needs to be done, the president said. Then he pitched his higher taxes for the wealthy argument:

“And so I've put forward a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. It's on a website. You can look at all the numbers, what cuts we make and what revenue we raise.

“And the way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for $1 of additional revenue, paid for, as I indicated earlier, by asking those of us who have done very well in this country to contribute a little bit more to reduce the deficit.

“Governor Romney earlier mentioned the Bowles-Simpson commission. Well, that's how the commission -- bipartisan commission that talked about how we should move forward suggested we have to do it, in a balanced way with some revenue and some spending cuts. And this is a major difference that Governor Romney and I have.”

“You raise taxes and you kill jobs,” Romney said in his follow-up.

But Obama insisted, “There has to be revenue in addition to cuts. Now, Governor Romney has ruled out revenue. He's ruled out revenue.”

Romney rejoined: “Look, the revenue I get is by more people working, getting higher pay, paying more taxes. That's how we get growth and how we balance the budget. But the idea of taxing people more, putting more people out of work, you'll never get there. You'll never balance the budget by raising taxes.”