The Republican presidential candidates sharpened their attacks and positions at Wednesday’s night’s debate as they headed into primaries in Arizona and Michigan on Tuesday, while President Obama proposed a business tax reform plan. Here’s what they had to say.

ON THE ECONOMY AND THE DEFICIT:

Obama: “[Congress should] keep taking the action that people are calling for to keep this economy growing. This may be an election year, but the American people have no patience for gridlock.…For example, Congress needs to pass my plan to help responsible homeowners save about $3,000 a year by refinancing their homes, their mortgages, at historically low rates. We’re doing what we can administratively to provide some Americans that opportunity…and we need Congress to act to do it.”

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum: “I put together a specific plan that cuts $5 trillion over five years, that spends less money each year for the next four years.…We’re actually going to shrink the actual size of the federal budget and we’re going to do so by dealing with the real problem. Obviously, the first thing we need to do is repeal Obamacare. That’s the one entitlement that we can get rid of.…Defense spending will not be cut under my administration, but we will go after all of the means-tested entitlement programs — Medicaid, food stamps, all of those programs — and do what we did with welfare.”

See Last Week’s ‘On the Campaign Trail’ Here >>

Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney:
“Number one, I’m going to go through every single program and ask if we can afford it. And if not, I’m going to say, is this program so critical that it’s worth borrowing money from China to pay for it? And if not, I’m going to get rid of it. Number two, I’m going to take programs that are important, but that could be better run at the state level and send them back to the states as a block grant and that includes Medicaid and housing vouchers and food stamps. These programs for the poor, [can] be run more efficiently and can be run with less fraud and abuse at the state level. And then finally number three, with what’s left of government, I’m going to cut the employment by 10 percent.”

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich:
“You’re never going to balance the budget on the back of a highly unemployed country. And so I would be committed, first of all, to a program of jobs and economic growth. Second, the energy issue is enormous. The leading developer of North Dakota oil estimated recently that if we would open up federal land and open up offshore, you would have $16 trillion to $18 trillion in royalties to the federal government in the next generation, an enormous flow which would drive down prices to $2.50 a gallon, would help us balance the budget and would create millions of jobs. Finally, I agree generally with the need to reform government. I think that, if we were prepared to repeal the 130-year-old civil service laws, go to a modern management system, we could save a minimum of $500 billion a year with a better system.”

ON TAXES:

Romney: “We’re going to cut taxes on everyone across the country by 20 percent, including the top 1 percent.”

Santorum:
“I never voted to raise taxes. Gov. Romney even today suggested raising taxes on the top 1 percent, adopting the Occupy Wall Street rhetoric. I’m not going to adopt that rhetoric. I’m going to represent 100 percent of Americans. We’re not raising taxes on anybody.”

Gingrich: “I think that Gov. Romney today moved in the right direction…closer to supply side. I wouldn’t agree with him on capping capital gains cuts at $200,000 because I think that’s, frankly, economically destructive, and I don’t believe in class warfare.”

Obama: “My administration released a framework for reform that simplifies the tax code, eliminates dozens of tax loopholes and subsidies, and promotes job creation right here at home. It’s a framework that lowers the corporate tax rate and broadens the tax base in order to increase competitiveness for companies across the nation. It cuts tax rates even further for manufacturers that are creating new products and manufacturing goods here in America. Finally, because no company should be able to avoid paying its fair share of taxes by moving jobs and profits overseas, this framework includes a basic minimum tax for every multinational company. This reform is fully paid for and it won’t add a dime to the deficit.”

SAY WHAT?

Gingrich: “I think it was totally appropriate for you [Romney] to ask for what you got [Federal aid during his tenure as head of the Olympics]. I just think it’s, kind of, silly for you to then turn around and run an ad attacking somebody else for getting what you got and then claiming what you got wasn’t what they got because what you got was right and what they got was wrong.”

Texas Rep. Ron Paul: “But this argument about maybe…now that the bankruptcy or the bailing out of GM worked, I said that’s sort of like if a criminal goes out and robs a bank, and he’s successful, therefore you endorse what he did, because he’s successful. But you have to rob people, you have to distort the law.”

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