GOP Candidates Discuss the Economy, Blame Obama

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WASHINGTON -- It's less than two months until the official start of the Republican primary season and the all important Iowa caucuses.

Wednesday night, the GOP candidates met on a debate stage in Rochester, Mich., to talk about the economy.

And there was a bizarre moment for Rick Perry.

The candidates were all smiles as they took their places and got down to business.

"We must grow this economy. We have the biggest economy in the world," Herman Cain said.

They all agreed that despite market uneasiness, European countries should rise or fall without the United States jumping in with a bailout.

"If you prop it up, you'll do exactly what we did in the Depression, prolong the agony," Ron Paul said.

On unemployment, which is a big problem in Michigan where the rate is above the national average, they blamed high taxes and over regulation for slow job growth.

"One thing we know is that taxes lead to jobs leaving the country. All you need to know is that we have the second highest corporate tax rate in the world," Michelle Bachmann explained.

"We need to go out there and stick a big old flag in the middle of America that says "Open for business again," Rick Perry said.

Though the debate focused on the economy, Cain faced one question on the recent allegations of sexual harassment from the 1990s.

The audience watching the debate booed when the question was asked.

Why should the American people hire a president if they feel there are character issues? Maria Bartiromo, one of the two debate moderators, asked.

"The American people deserve better than someone being tried in the court of public opinion based on unfounded accusations," Cain responded as the audience applauded.

"And I value my character and my integrity more than anything else. And for every one person who comes forward with a false accusation, there are probably.thousands who would say none of that sort of activity ever came from Herman Cain," he said.

The moderators even tried to rope in Cain's closest rival, Mitt Romney.

"Would you keep a CEO.are you persuaded by what Mr. Cain has said? Would you keep him on if you bought his company?" moderator John Harwood asked Romney.

"Look, look, Herman Cain is the person to respond to these questions. He just did," the former Massachusetts governor replied.

The discussion lasted only a couple of minutes in the two-hour debate and soon, Cain was back on topic.

"999, a 9 percent business flat tax, 9 percent tax on personal income, and a 9 percent national sales tax," he exclaimed.

Wednesday night's debate was nothing like "fight night" in Las Vegas a couple of weeks ago - with candidates yelling at each other.

The only finger pointing was at President Obama.

There were, however, some tense moments for Perry when he was trying to explain which government agencies he would cut.

"I will tell you, it is three agencies of government when I get there that are gone. Commerce, Education, and the -- what's the third one there? Let's see," Perry said as the crowd laughed, then applauded.

"But you can't.you can't name the third one?," Harwood asked.

"The third agency of government I would -- I would do away with, Education, the.," Perry stammered.

"Commerce," someone said.

"Commerce and, let's see. I can't. The third one, I can't. Sorry. Oops," Perry said.

The Texas governor later clarified he was talking about the Department of Energy.

On the subject of housing, the candidates agreed there's no quick fix.

"For us to say there is an easy solution to housing, that's just not right, and that's not fair. The economy does have to recover in order for the housing market to pick up its slack," Jon Huntsman said.

Rick Santorum, trying to break from the bottom of the pack, tried to remind voters of his record.

"Five of the eight people on this panel supported the Wall Street bailout. I didn't," he said.

And Newt Gingrich, who has recently been rising in some polls, raised a tough question for the "Occupy Wall Street" crowd.

"Who's going to pay for the park you're occupying if there are no businesses making a profit?" he asked.

The candidates will meet again Saturday in South Carolina to talk about national security.

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Jennifer Wishon is the White House correspondent for CBN News based in the network’s Washington, D.C. Bureau.  Before taking over the White House beat, Jennifer covered Capitol Hill and other national news, from the economy to the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.  Follow Jennifer on Twitter @JenniferWishon and "like" her at Facebook.com/JennWishon.