GOP Rivals Square Off over Bailout, Birth Control

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Republicans squared off Wednesday night for what could be the final debate of the primary season.

With voters heading to the polls in Michigan in less than a week, all four candidates tried to explain what sets them apart from the other.

Congressional Earmarks

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum are co-frontrunners, and that makes them political enemies.

One of the differences that surfaced during Thursday's debate centered on congressional earmarks, a process Santorum defended.

"Congress has a role to play when it comes to appropriating money, and sometimes the president and the administration don't get it right. What happened was an abuse of the process," Santorum said.

"I do believe there was abuse," he reiterated. "And I said we should stop it. And as president, I would pose earmarks."

Romney pounced.

"I would put a ban on earmarks," the former Massachusetts governor said. "I think it opens a door on excessive spending, spending on projects that don't need to be done."

"While I was fighting to save the Olympics, you were fighting to save the bridge to nowhere," Romney added, taking a jab at Santorum.

Santorum didn't take Romney's attack lying down.

"He's out there on television with ads right now unfortunately attacking me, saying that I'm this great earmarker when he not only asked for earmarks for the Salt Lake Olympics in the order of tens of millions of dollars, sought those earmarks and used them," Santorum said.

Auto Bailout

One subject all four agreed on was that the Obama's administration auto bailout was wrong.

"I wrote an op-ed in the paper and I said absolutely not. Don't write a check for $50 billion. These companies need to go through a managed bankruptcy, just like airlines have, go through a managed bankruptcy," Romney said.

But Santorum contradicted Romney, noting that the former governor did support the bank bailouts.

"He supported the folks on Wall Street and bailed out Wall Street, was all for it," Santorum charged.

"Then when it came to the auto workers and the folks in Detroit, he said no," he added. "That to me is not a consistent principled position."

Pro-Life Credentials

When the conversation turned to the recent birth control debate, the pro-life audience voiced its distaste with the practice.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich seized the moment to take a jab at the mainstream media.

"You did not once in the 2008 campaign, not once in the 2008 campaign did any of the elite media ask why Barack Obama voted in favor of legalizing infanticide," Gingrich said, drawing cheers from the audience.

"So let's be clear here," he continued. "If we're going to have a debate about who the extremist is on these issues, it is President Obama who, as a state senator, voted to protect doctors who killed babies who survived the abortion. It is not the Republicans."

But according to Texas Rep. Ron Paul, big government is the problem.

"The problem is the government is getting involved in things they shouldn't be getting involved in, especially at the federal level," Paul said.

Repealing 'Obamacare'

Paul's comment led to an all-out war of words between the frontrunners over who would be better suited to repeal President Obama's health care law.

"It would be a difficult task for someone who had the model for 'Obamacare,' which is the biggest issue in this race of government control of our lives, to be the nominee of our party," Santorum said. "You would take that issue completely off the table."

Romney reminded Santorum that not so long ago, the former Pennsylvania senator had endorsed his health care plan.

"Let's not forget that four years ago, well after 'Romneycare' was put in place, four years ago you not only endorsed me, you went on 'Laura Ingraham' and said 'This is a guy who is really conservative and we can trust him.'

Finally, the candidates were asked to sum themselves up in just one word.

"Consistent," Paul said.

"Courage," Santorum replied.

"Resolute," Romney chimed in.

Not to be outdone, Gingrich replied, "Cheerful," drawing laughter from the audience.

The Michigan and Arizona primaries are less than a week away.

Michigan is Romney's home state, but Santorum and Romney are running neck and neck in the polls. If Santorum beats Romney there, it would leave Romney searching for answers and Santorum in the driver's seat.

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