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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Part I: 20:00-20:30, CNN Southern Republican Debate

Aired January 19, 2012 - 20:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN KING, DEBATE MODERATOR AND CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We're live in Charleston, South Carolina. It's debate night after a dramatic day in the Republican race for president. Iowa declares a new winner. Rick Perry bows out. And 35 hours before the polls open here in South Carolina, we have a dead heat. The Southern Republican Presidential Debate starts right now.

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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to the South, the heart of the Republican Party, where tradition lives.

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FORMER GOV. MITT ROMNEY (R-MA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: The strongest military in the world.

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ANNOUNCER: And values matter.

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FORMER SEN. RICK SANTORUM (R-PA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We want a conservative on the ticket.

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ANNOUNCER: Tonight, the Republican candidates on stage in South Carolina for their final debate before the first-in-the-South primary.

Mitt Romney, the front-runner, going for another win, trying to close the deal with skeptical voters.

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ROMNEY: I will work to get good jobs back.

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ANNOUNCER: Newt Gingrich, on the rise, trying to harness conservative support as the field gets smaller.

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FORMER REP. NEWT GINGRICH (R-GA.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I am the only candidate capable of stopping a moderate from winning the nomination.

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ANNOUNCER: Rick Santorum, with renewed momentum, after learning that he won Iowa after all.

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SANTORUM: We defeated Mitt Romney in Iowa.

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ANNOUNCER: Ron Paul, the insurgent, a powerful force in the first contests, with an army of young voters.

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REP. RON PAUL (R-TX.), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We are dangerous to the status quo of this country.

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ANNOUNCER: Now, South Carolina is ready to put its stamp on the 2012 presidential race.

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(UNKNOWN): The president of the United States.

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ANNOUNCER: Welcome to Charleston and the fight for the South.

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KING: From the North Charleston Coliseum, this is the Southern Republican Presidential Debate. Tonight, the four remaining Republican candidates are with us with their ultimate goal now in sight.

Welcome this evening. I'm John King. This is the final debate before the South Carolina presidential primary. That's on Saturday. Republican leaders from here in South Carolina, 13 other southern states in this audience tonight, along with members of the Tea Party Patriots.

Some of our audience members will get a chance to directly question the candidates. You can also take part in this debate by sending us your questions online. On Twitter, make sure to include the hash tag #CNNdebate. On Facebook, at Facebook.com/CNNpolitics. And of course as always, on CNNPolitics.com. It's time now to meet the 2012 Republican presidential contenders. Joining us on stage first, the Texas congressman, Ron Paul.

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The former speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich.

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The former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney.

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And the former senator from Pennsylvania, Rick Santorum.

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Ladies and gentlemen, the Republican presidential candidates.

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Now, just before we came on the air tonight we recited the Pledge of Allegiance. Now please rise for our national anthem.

We're blessed tonight to have it performed by military cadets from The Citadel right here in Charleston, South Carolina.

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KING: That was fabulous. Absolutely fabulous.

I want to ask the candidates to get comfortable at their podiums, have our audience take their seats, while I tell you a bit about how tonight's debate will work.

I'll ask questions, as will some members of our audience tonight. I'll follow up and guide the discussion.

Candidates, I promise you, we're going to try to make sure each of you gets your fair share of the time and the questions. You'll have one minute to answer and 30 seconds for follow-ups and rebuttals. And I'll make sure you get time to respond if you are singled out for criticism.

Now let's have the candidates introduce themselves. We're going to ask them to keep it short. And here's an example. I'm John King from CNN. I'm rooting for the Patriots this weekend, and I'm honored to be your moderator this evening.

Senator Santorum, let's begin with you.

RICK SANTORUM (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Rick Santorum, and I want to thank the people of the Lowcountry for their hospitality to my wife Karen and our seven children.

And I also want to thank the people of Iowa for a little delayed but most welcome victory there. Thank you to the people of Iowa.

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MITT ROMNEY (R), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: I'm Mitt Romney. It's good to be back in South Carolina. I see many good friends here.

It's also great to be here with my wife and some of my kids. I'm married now 42 years. I have five sons, five daughters-in-law, 16 grandkids, and they're the joy of my life.

Thank you.

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KING: Mr. Speaker.

GINGRICH: I'm Newt Gingrich. I want to thank the people of South Carolina for being so hospitable. As a Georgian, it feels good to be back at home in the South, and I look forward to this evening.

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KING: Congressman Paul.

PAUL: Thank you very much. It's great to be here tonight.

I'm a congressman from Texas. I've been elected for 12 times. And also, I practiced OB/GYN for a 30-year period. I've also served five years in the military, and I'm the only U.S. veteran on this stage tonight.

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KING: You've met the candidates. It's time now to begin the debate, an event that has quite a dramatically different feel than just a few hours ago.

Just this morning, as Senator Santorum just noted, we learned he, not Governor Romney, won the Iowa caucuses. There were five podiums on the stage when the sun came up. Four now because of Governor Rick Perry's decision to drop out.

And just as Speaker Gingrich surged into contention here in South Carolina, a direct fresh character attack on the Speaker.

And Mr. Speaker, I want to start with that this evening.

As you know, your ex-wife gave an interview to ABC News and another interview with "The Washington Post." And this story has now gone viral on the Internet.

In it, she says that you came to her in 1999, at a time when you were having an affair. She says you asked her, sir, to enter into an open marriage.

Would you like to take some time to respond to that? GINGRICH: No, but I will.

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GINGRICH: I think the destructive, vicious, negative nature of much of the news media makes it harder to govern this country, harder to attract decent people to run for public office. And I am appalled that you would begin a presidential debate on a topic like that.

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KING: Is that all you want to say, sir?

GINGRICH: Let me finish.

KING: Please.

GINGRICH: Every person in here knows personal pain. Every person in here has had someone close to them go through painful things. To take an ex-wife and make it two days before the primary a significant question for a presidential campaign is as close to despicable as anything I can imagine.

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My -- my two daughters -- my two daughters wrote the head of ABC and made the point that it was wrong, that they should pull it, and I am frankly astounded that CNN would take trash like that and use it to open a presidential debate.

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KING: As you noted, Mr. Speaker, this story did not come from our network. As you also know, it is a subject of conversation on the campaign. I'm not -- I get your point. I take your point.

GINGRICH: John -- John, it was repeated by your network. You chose to start the debate with it. Don't try to blame somebody else. You and your staff chose to start this debate with it.

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Let me be quite clear. Let me be quite clear. The story is false. Every personal friend I have who knew us in that period said the story was false. We offered several of them to ABC to prove it was false. They weren't interested because they would like to attack any Republican. They're attacking the governor. They're attacking me. I'm sure they'll presently get around to Senator Santorum and Congressman Paul.

I am tired of the elite media protecting Barack Obama by attacking Republicans.

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KING: As I noted -- as I noted at the beginning, we have four podiums on this stage tonight, not five. And when he exited the race this morning, Governor Perry quickly and forcefully endorsed Speaker Gingrich. And in that remark, he said that, "No, Mr. Gingrich is not a perfect man." Senator Santorum, he said "none of us are." And he said he believes in his Christian faith that guides him to the value of redemption.

Speaker Gingrich doesn't believe this is an issue. Governor Perry says this is not an issue. I just want to start with you, sir, and go down. Do you believe it is?

SANTORUM: I've answered this question repeatedly throughout the course of this campaign. I am a Christian, too. And I thank God for forgiveness. But, you know, these -- these are issues of our lives and what we did in our lives. They are issues of character for people to consider. But the bottom line is those are -- those are things for everyone in this audience to look at. And they're going to look at me, look at what I've done in my private life and personal life, unfortunately.

And what I say is that this country is a very forgiving country. This country understands that we are all fallen and I'm very hopeful that we will be judged by that standard and not by a higher one on the ultimate day.

KING: Governor Romney?

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ROMNEY: John, let's get on to the real issues is all I've got to say.

KING: Congressman?

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PAUL: I think too often all of us are on the receiving ends of attacks from the media. It's very disturbing because sometimes they're not based on facts and we suffer the consequences. You know, sometimes it reminds me of this idea of getting corporations out of running campaigns. But what about the corporations that run the media? I mean, they're always...

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And I think our responsibility, since sorting facts and fiction, the people have to sort this out. But I think setting standards are very important and I'm very proud that my wife of 54 years is with me tonight.

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KING: All right. As I said at the top of the debate -- as I said at the top of the debate, we'll take some questions from the audience. We've reached out to people online. We've also reached out to a number of votes, some who wish they could be here tonight, but can't be here tonight. I want to turn to a question from one of those voters. Her name is Jane Gallagher (ph). She's from here in South Carolina. As all of you know, and as everyone in this audience in South Carolina knows, we're in a state with 9.9 percent unemployment. And Jane (ph) asked this question: List three or more specific programs that will put American people back to work?

Congressman Paul, I want to begin with you. Do you believe we need specific federal programs to put the American people back to work?

PAUL: Well, most of the things the federal government could do to get us back to work is get out of the way. I'd like to...

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I'd like to see the federal government have a sound currency. That creates a healthy economy.

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I -- I would like to see massive reduction of regulations. I would like to see income tax reduced to near zero as possible. And that is what we have to do. We have to get the government out of the way. We have to recognize why we have unemployment. And it comes because we have a deeply flawed financial system that causes financial bubbles. The bubbles burst and you have the unemployment.

Now, the most important thing to get over that hump that was created artificially by bad economic policies is to allow the correction to occur. You have to get rid of the excessive debt and you have to get rid of the malinvestment.

And you don't do that by buying the debt off the people who were benefiting from it. So we, the people, shouldn't be stuck with these debts on these mortgage derivatives and all. We need to get that behind us, which means the government shouldn't be doing any bailouts.

So most of the things to improve the environment is getting the government out of the way and enforce contract laws and enforce bankruptcy laws.

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KING: Mr. Speaker, come in on that point, as you address what you would like to do but also specifically the question, do we need federal programs?

GINGRICH: Well, there are three things that can be done at a specifically South Carolina level. There's one easy thing to do at a national level, and that's repeal the Dodd-Frank bill, which is killing small business, killing small banks.

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That would help overnight. (APPLAUSE)

But three specifics. One, there's $29 billion-plus of natural gas offshore. In Louisiana, jobs for that kind of production are $80,000 a year. That would help us become energy independent from the Middle East. Part of the royalties of the natural gas could be used then to modernize the Port of Charleston and the Port of Georgetown.

Charleston has to be modernized to meet the largest ships that will come through the Panama Canal in 2014. One out of every five jobs in South Carolina is dependent on the Port of Charleston.

The third thing you could do, frankly, is fundamentally, radically overhaul the -- the Corps of Engineers. The Corps of Engineers today takes eight years to study -- not to complete -- to study doing the port. We won the entire second World War in three years and eight months.

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KING: A subset of the jobs conversation among the candidates in this state over the past week, Mr. Speaker, has been from you and from the now-departed Governor Perry, pretty sharp criticism of Governor Romney's tenure as the CEO of Bain Capital.

I want you to be specific. What do you think he did wrong that makes you question his ability as a president to create jobs?

GINGRICH: I think there are specific cases -- Georgetown Steel would be a case here, and a company in Gaffney, South Carolina -- specific cases where Bain Capital's model, which was to take over a company and dramatically leverage it, leave it with a great deal of debt, made it less likely to survive.

I think the governor ought to explain -- because it started because he cited his experience as a key part of his preparation for being president. And so I think the underlying model of that kind of investment, which is very different from venture capital, ought to be explained, and those cases ought to be looked at.

KING: Well, Governor Romney, let me give you a chance. Explain.

ROMNEY: Well, I hope I get a chance to talk about the topic you began with. We'll come back to the -- the direct attack from Speaker Gingrich in a moment.

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So let's go back and talk about first what you do to get the economy going. And of course we've spoken time and again about our tax code that's out of alignment with other nations. We've spoken about the fact that regulation is overwhelming us, that we need to take care of our energy resources and become energy secure. We have to open up markets. And we have to crack down on China when they cheat. But I'd like to talk about something else that President Obama has been doing. He's been practicing crony capitalism. And if you want to get America going again...

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... you've got to stop the spread of crony capitalism. He gives General Motors to the UAW. He takes $500 million and sticks it into Solyndra. He -- he stacks the labor stooges on the NLRB so they can say no to Boeing and take care of their friends in the labor movement.

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You go across the country with regards to energy because he has to bow to the most extreme members of the environmental movement. He turns down the Keystone Pipeline, which would bring energy and jobs to America.

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This -- this president is the biggest impediment to job growth in this country. And we have to replace Barack Obama to get America working again.

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KING: So -- so let's go -- let's go back. I'm glad you had that opportunity. I do want to go back, see if we can clear this up.

Now, the questions about Bain, many have been about the number. You have said 120,000 jobs that you can tie back to decisions you made at Bain Capital. I want you to take your time, sir, and do the math. Do the math and how you get to 100,000 or 120,000 jobs?

ROMNEY: I'll do the math, but let me tell you, I know we're going to get attacked from the left, from Barack Obama, on capitalism. I know that people are going to say, oh, you should only practice it this way or that way and think they know better than the private market.

My view is capitalism works. Free enterprise works. And I...

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... and I find it -- I find it, kind of, strange, on a stage like this with Republicans, having to describe how private equity and venture capital work and how they're successful and how they create jobs.

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But let me tell you the answer. We started a number of businesses. Four in particular created 120,000 jobs as of today. We started them years ago. They've grown well beyond the time I was there, to 120,000 people that have employed by those enterprises.

There are others we've been with, some of which have lost jobs. People have evaluated that since -- well, since I ran four years ago, when I ran for governor. And those that have been documented to lost jobs lost about 10,000 jobs.

So 120,000 less 10,000 means that we created something over 100,000 jobs. And there's some, by the way, that were businesses we acquired that grew and became more successful like Domino's Pizza and a company called Duane Reade and others.

I'm very proud of the fact that throughout my career, I have worked to try and build enterprises, hopefully to return money to investors. There's nothing wrong with profit, by the way. That profit --

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ROMNEY: That profit went to pension funds, to charities. It went to a wide array of institutions. A lot of people benefited from that. And by the way, as enterprises become more profitable, they can hire more people.

I'm someone who believes in free enterprise. I think Adam Smith was right. And I'm going to stand and defend capitalism across this country, throughout this campaign. I know we're going to get hit hard from President Obama, but we're going to stuff it down his throat and point out it is capitalism and freedom that makes America strong.

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KING: Senator Santorum, join the conversation, specifically to the initial question from Jane. What should the federal government be doing? And do you believe in specific programs? And I also want to ask you if you share the Speaker's concern about Governor Romney's tenure at Bain.

SANTORUM: Well, on the first question, I believe in capitalism, too. I believe in capitalism for everybody. Not necessarily high finance, but capitalism that works for the working men and women of this country who are out there paddling alone in America right now, who have an unemployment rate 2.5 times those who are college educated and feel that no party cares about them. Because you have the Democratic Party, and Barack Obama, and all he wants to do is make them more dependent, give them more food stamps, give them more Medicaid.

I was talking to a state official the other day in Iowa that told me that the state of Iowa is being fined because they're not signing up enough people on to the Medicaid program. This is what the answer is for the economic squalor that Barack Obama has visited on working men and women in this country, and it's creating more government programs and getting them more dependent on those programs.

We need a party that just doesn't talk about high finance and cutting corporate taxes or cutting the top tax rates. We need to talk about how we're going to put men and women in this country, who built this country, back to work in this country in the manufacturing sector of our economy.

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SANTORUM: And there's one candidate that has done that. I have done that. I've done that throughout the course of this campaign.

I talked about who (ph) we're going to target and make sure that we can be competitive. I was in Boeing today and I was up at BMW yesterday. South Carolina can compete with anybody in this world in manufacturing.

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SANTORUM: We just need to give them the opportunity to compete. And we are 20 percent more costly than our top nine trading partners, and that's excluding labor costs.

That's why I said we need to cut the corporate tax and manufacturing down to zero. We need to give manufacturers a leg up so they can compete for the jobs, half of which went from 21 percent of this country in manufacturing, down to nine percent. And we left the dreams of working men and women on the sideline.

We need to show that we're the party, we're the movement that's going to get those Reagan Democrats, those conservative Democrats, all throughout the states that we need to win to win this election, to sign up with us, and we'll put them back to work.

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KING: Let's stay on the economy and let's stay on the South Carolina experience all you gentlemen have had.

As you know, and as this audience reflects, this is a state incredibly proud of its military tradition and incredibly proud of its veterans. Many of those veterans who have served post-9/11, served honorably in Iraq and Afghanistan, are coming back to a terrible economy. Right now, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans aged 18 to 24 is at 22 percent.

Congressman Paul, to you first, sir. Should the federal government be specifically targeting that part, our veterans coming back, saying the unemployment rate is so high among that sub group, that the federal government should offer tax incentives to employers or take other steps to help them to incentivize the economy to help them get jobs?

PAUL: To some degree, but you really want to make the environment -- the economy healthy for everybody and not designate special places. But to help them out to come back is probably necessary on some occasions now.

But we have to think about how serious our problems are here, because we face something much, much greater. After World War II, we had 10 million came home all at once. But what did we do then? There were some of the liberals back then that said, oh, we have to have more work programs and do this and that. And they thought they would have to do everything conceivable for those 10 million. They never got around to it because they came home so quickly.

And you know what the government did? They cut the budget by 60 percent.

They cut taxes by 30 percent. By that time, the debt had been liquidated. And everybody went back to work again, you didn't need any special programs.

So...

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But the one thing, talking about concern about the -- the military and the veterans, I'm very proud that, you know, I get twice as many donations from the military, active military people, then all the rest put together.

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So I am very concerned about them. I think where the real problem is, is we can create a healthy economic environment if we did the right things. Where the veterans really deserve help, both as a physician and as a congressman, is the people who come back and aren't doing well health-wise. They need a lot more help.

We have an epidemic now of suicide of our military coming back. So they need a lot of medical help. And I think they come up shortchanged. They come up shortchanged after Vietnam war, Persian Gulf war, and even now. They don't get care from the Veterans Administration.

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KING: I think we all agree there's a generational challenge for the country with the brain injuries and the other injuries and the suicide, as you mentioned.

I want to stay on the economy for a minute, though. Senator Santorum, you started to shake your head. Again, specifically, it's a role of government question. Should the government be stepping in and saying we need to help this subgroup in the economy that's hurting, the veterans?

SANTORUM: Well, obviously, we have -- we have and should continue to have veterans preferences. People who went out and served this country should have -- should have preferences when it comes to job positions when they come back to work in this economy.

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My dad and mom worked for the Veterans Administration. I grew up on a V.A. grounds, lived in an apartment in those -- on those V.A. grounds for the first 18 years of my life.

And I saw the -- the impact of the Vietnam war on -- on those veterans who came back. And they came back very damaged, not just -- not just with -- with physical wounds, but a lot of psychological ones. And that's, I'm sure, a very big part of the high unemployment rate that we're dealing with.

And we need to be much, much more aggressive. We have the president of the United States who said he is going to cut veterans benefits, cut our military, at a time when these folks are four, five, six, seven tours, coming back, in and out of jobs, sacrificing everything for this country. And the president of the United States can't cut one penny out of the social welfare system and he wants to cut a trillion dollars out of our military and hit our veterans and that's disgusting.

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KING: So, Governor, Governor, and then Mr. Speaker, Senator Santorum passionately makes the case. It also is a time, as all of you know, of very tough budget decisions the next president's going to have to make, setting priorities.

How do you do it? How -- what specifically do you do to help the veterans?

ROMNEY: Well, let's distinguish between what gets done at the federal level and what gets done at the state level.

In our state we found a way to help our -- our veterans by saying, "Look, if you're going to come back, particularly if you're in the National Guard, we'll pay for your education, college degree, both the fees and tuition. We give you a full ride."

And we also had a plan that said, "If you come back and you've been out of work for a year or more, we're going to put like a bonus on your back, which if anyone hires you, that bonus goes to them to pay for your training."

So we can encourage that to occur. But let's do it at the state level. Let's not have the federal government continue to extend its -- its tentacles into everything that goes on in this country. Let's take the...

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Let's take the -- let's take the money that -- that we use to help people who have real needs and instead of having it all administered by the federal government, that thinks they know how to do everything, let's take that money, bundle up South Carolina's fair share and every other state's fair share, send it to them and say, "You care for your people in the way you feel best." Let's do that at the state level.

And I agree with what -- what Senator Santorum said with regards to our military budget. Right now for the president to be cutting $350,000 from our military budget, planning to cut another $650,000 -- $650 billion, excuse me, $350 billion, another $650 billion, a trillion dollars, his secretary of defense says that represents a doomsday scenario.

We've got an aging Navy. We've got an aging Air Force. They're planning on cutting our number of active duty personnel. They can't possibly keep up with the needs of our veterans.

It is absolutely wrong to balance our budget on the backs of our military. We need a strong military, so strong no one in the world would ever think of testing it.

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KING: Mr. Speaker, please come in. We're going to have -- we'll have some conversations about commander in chief. You have the floor now. Specifically veterans who need jobs.

GINGRICH: Let me just say two things about Congressman Paul's history.

The U.S. government did two dramatic things after World War II. They created a G.I. Bill, which enabled literally millions of returning veterans to go to college for the very first time. My father, who was in the Second World War, went to college on a G.I. Bill. So there was an enormous expansion of opportunity that enabled them to integrate into a new, emerging society.