Just after the candidates sparred over whether Social Security is a Ponzi scheme, the focus shifted to another topic of great interest to seniors – the Medicare prescription drug benefit embraced by former President George W. Bush and enacted during his tenure. They all agreed to maintain it, but that to pay for the program, government waste must end. (How they define waste is probably what distinguishes them from each other.)
The question came from a woman in the audience from Pleasanton (presumably in California, where the “tea party” had a large rally on Tax Day in 2010).
What, she wanted to know, were the candidates’ plans to balance the budget and get spending under control so that her children’s share of the debt would be erased without compromising her mother’s “already tenuous” financial future.
Each candidate stressed that first and foremost, waste has to be ferreted out and eliminated at the federal level.
“Anyone who knows anything about the federal budget knows there’s such an enormous volume of waste,” said Gingrich, much of it through Medicare and Medicaid fraud.
Wolf Blitzer asked Santorum, who voted for the Bush prescription drug plan, whether he would repeal it if he became president.
“We have to keep a prescription drug component,” Santorum said, “but we have to pay for it.”
A theme for Santorum tonight has been the courage he displayed during his two terms as U.S. senator from Pennsylvania. He reiterated that he has the courage to take the hard decisions.
Perry said he would not repeal the drug benefit. He claimed to be an old hand at ferreting out savings from government budgets and said he’d saved “over $5.2 billion … just by finding waste and fraud in Texas government.” And, he added, “I am thinking there might be more waste and fraud in federal government."
Romney, as he often does, cited his long business experience. “I know something about taking waste out of enterprises,” he said. “We’re going to have to cut spending.”
Paul returned to a favorite them – saving billions by ending the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and a big cheer went up when he suggested abolishing the departments of education and energy.
Bachmann took a stern position that the crowd absolutely loved: Americans, she said, are wrong to expect the government to provide them with “more stuff” – i.e. health care, medicine, housing and food.
“Going forward, this isn’t going to work anymore,” Bachmann said. “We have to be an ownership society [where] individual responsibility and personal responsibility once against becomes the animating principal.”