In a showdown at close quarters, President Barack Obama and Republican Mitt Romney sparred aggressively in their first campaign debate Wednesday night over taxes, deficits and steps needed to create jobs in a sputtering economy.
Obama accused his rival of seeking to "double down on the top-down policies" that led to a devastating economic downturn four years ago.
But Romney, standing a few feet away on the debate stage, said at one point: "The status quo isn't going to cut it."
That was a reference to the weak economy and 8.1 percent national unemployment that is by far the dominant issue in the race for the White House. Public opinion polls show Obama with a slight advantage in key battleground states and nationally, and Romney was particularly aggressive in the debate's early going, like a man looking to shake up a campaign with a little less than five weeks to run.
Polite but pointed, the two men agreed about little if anything.
Obama said his opponent's plan to reduce all tax rates by 20 percent would cost $5 trillion and benefit the wealthy at the expense of middle income taxpayers.
Shot back Romney: "Virtually everything he just said about my tax plan is inaccurate."
The former Massachusetts governor and businessman added that Obama's proposal to allow the expiration of tax cuts on upper-level income would mean tax increases on small businesses that create jobs by the hundreds of thousands.
The two campaign rivals clasped hands and smiled as they strode onto the debate stage at the University of Denver, then waved to the audience before taking their places behind identical lecterns.
There was a quick moment of laughter, when Obama referred to first lady Michelle Obama as "sweetie" and noted it was their 20th anniversary.
Romney added best wishes, and said to the first couple, "I'm sure this is the most romantic place you could imagine, here with me."
President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney spun one-sided stories in their first presidential debate, not necessarily bogus, but not the whole truth.
Here's a look at some of their claims and how they stack up with the facts:
OBAMA: "I've proposed a specific $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. ... The way we do it is $2.50 for every cut, we ask for $1 in additional revenue."
THE FACTS: In promising $4 trillion, Obama is already banking more than $2 billion from legislation enacted along with Republicans last year that cut agency operating budgets and capped them for 10 years. He also claims more than $800 billion in war savings that would occur anyway. And he uses creative bookkeeping to hide spending on Medicare reimbursements to doctors. Take those "cuts" away and Obama's $2.50/$1 ratio of spending cuts to tax increases shifts significantly more in the direction of tax increases.
Obama's February budget offered proposals that would cut deficits over the coming decade by $2 trillion instead of $4 trillion. Of that deficit reduction, tax increases accounted for $1.6 trillion. He promises relatively small spending cuts of $597 billion from big federal benefit programs like Medicare and Medicaid. He also proposed higher spending on infrastructure projects.
ROMNEY on cutting the deficit: "Obamacare's on my list. ... I'm going to stop the subsidy to PBS. ... I'll make government more efficient."
THE FACTS: Romney has promised to balance the budget in eight years to 10 years, but he hasn't offered a complete plan. Instead, he's promised a set of principles, some of which — like increasing Pentagon spending and restoring more than $700 billion in cuts that Democrats made in Medicare over the coming decade — work against his goal. He also has said he will not consider tax increases.
He pledges to shrink the government to 20 percent of the size of the economy, as opposed to more than 23 percent of gross domestic product now, by the end of his first term. The Romney campaign estimates that would require cuts of $500 billion from the 2016 budget alone. He also has pledged to cut tax rates by 20 percent, paying for them by eliminating tax breaks for the wealthiest and through economic growth.
To fulfill his promise, then, Romney would require cuts to other programs so deep — under one calculation requiring cutting many areas of the domestic budget by one-third within four years — that they could never get through Congress. Cuts to domestic agencies would have to be particularly deep.
But he's offered only a few modest examples of government programs he'd be willing to squeeze, like subsidies to PBS and Amtrak. He does want to repeal Obama's big health care law, but that law is actually forecast to reduce the deficit.