Candidates Debate Economy, Health Care

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The economy took center stage as presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain clashed for a second time over how to repair the deepening economic crisis.

In what is perhaps his most sweeping proposal yet, Republican candidate McCain came out pledging Tuesday night that he would require the government to renegotiate individual home mortgages to make them more affordable for families caught up in the financial crisis.

Click play to view CBN News Political Reporter David Brody's report from Nashville, followed by his comments with Pat Robertson on The 700 Club.

"It's my proposal. It's not Sen. Obama's proposal," McCain said at the beginning.

"Is it expensive? Yes. But we all know, my friends, until we stabilize home values in America, we're never going to start turning around and creating jobs and fixing our economy, and we've got to get some trust and confidence back to America," he said.

The Gloves Are Off

The town-hall format at Belmont University allowed voters to ask questions while NBC's Tom Brokaw moderated. It was the second of three between the two rivals, four weeks to the day before Election Day Nov. 4.

As decided upon before the debate began, Obama opened with his answer to the first question.

"We are in the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said. "This is the final verdict on the failed economic policies of the last eight years."

As he has done repeatedly on the campaign trail, Obama contended that McCain, along with President Bush, had favored deregulation of the financial markets, which many have been blamed for allowing Wall Street to run amuck.

Obama said they predicted deregulation would "let markets run wild and prosperity would rain down on all of us. It didn't happen."

Nieither candidate waited long before taking digs at each other's record. McCain went after Obama for being the Senate's second-highest recipient of donations from individuals at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac - the quasi-government entity at the center of the mortgage meltdown.

"There were some of us who stood up against this," McCain said. "There were others who took a hike."

Obama fired back by mentioning McCain's campaign manager Rick Davis' ties to a Washington lobbying firm he said received thousands a month from Freddie Mac.

Taxes and Government Spending

Given the tough economic times, one questioner asked what sacrifices the candidates would ask Americans to make to restore the American dream.

McCain said he'd scale back on entitlement programs and reform others like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security for better efficiency.

"My friends, we are not going to be able to provide the same benefit for present-day workers that present-day retirees have today," he said.

Obama countered that such programs couldn't be dealt with until the tax code was corrected. He believes his administration would need to cut taxes for those making less than $250,000 a year before being able to reform those government programs.

"We're going to have to take on entitlements," he said. "I want to cut taxes for 95 percent of Americans."

McCain charged that Obama's tax plan hurts small business and fosters more job losses at a time when more American's are out of work.

"Nailing down Senator Obama's various tax proposals is like nailing Jell-O to the wall," McCain said. "There has been five or six of them and if you wait long enough, there will probably be another one."

"Only a few percent of small businesses make more than $250,000 a year," Obama said, adding that most small business would actually have their taxes cut. He added that McCain's tax proposal favors wealthy CEOs who are living "high on the hog."

"Let not raise anyone's taxes. I'm not in favor of tax cuts for the wealthy. I'm in favor of leaving the tax cuts alone," McCain responded, not wanting to cede any ground to Obama on the topic.

Other Issues

The two also sparred over health care, the environment, and foreign policy.

On health care, McCain accused Obama of imposing mandates on American families and small business to have health coverage punishable by fines.

"If you're a small business person and you don't insure your employees, Sen. Obama will fine you. Will fine you. That's remarkable. If you're a parent and you're struggling to get health insurance for your children, Sen. Obama will fine you," the Arizona senator said.

"I want to give every American a $5,000 refundable tax credit. They can take it anywhere, across state lines. Why not? Don't we go across state lines when we purchase other things in America?" he said.

Obama defended his proposal saying it would lower premiums, while acknowledging that he would require children to be covered.

"All I'm going to do is help you to lower the premiums on it. You'll still have choice of doctor. There's no mandate involved. Small businesses are not going to have a mandate."

On foriegn policy issues, McCain repeated his charge that his rival "was wrong about Iraq and the surge. He was wrong about Russia when they committed aggression against Georgia. And in his short career he does not understand our national security challenges. We don't have time for on the job training."

Obama countered by saying that it was true "he didn't understand some things."

"...Like how the United States could face the challenge in does in Afghanistan after spending years and hundreds of billions of dollars in Iraq," he said.

The audience was selected by polling giant Gallup and was split three ways among voters leaning toward McCain, those leaning toward Obama, and those undecided. Brokaw screened their questions and chose others that had been submitted online.

The third and final debate will be held Wednesday, Oct. 15, at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. Veteran journalist Bob Schieffer will moderate.

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