Republican candidates spar on social security during debate

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Then Perry countered, quoting Romney as having said in his own book that if people did with their financing what had been done with Social Security receipts it would be a criminal offense.

(Photo: Associated Press)

"You've got to quote me correctly," Romney responded. "What I said was taking money out of the Social Security trust fund is criminal and it's wrong."

Social Security benefits are financed through a payroll tax that workers and their employers pay. According to the most recent independent forecasts, unless Congress enacts changes, benefits will have to be cut beginning in 2037.

Bachmann and Santorum were the aggressors when the topic turned to an executive order Perry signed in 2007 requiring the vaccination of Texas schoolgirls against STD.

Bachmann, whose candidacy surged and then fell back in the polls in less than a month, said that "to have innocent little 12-year-old girls be forced to have a government injection through an executive order is just flat out wrong. That should never be done. It's a violation of a liberty interest."

Perry said, as he has before, that it was a mistake to issue an executive order on the issue, but he defended wanting to have the vaccinations take effect.

Bachman didn't stop there. She said that "a big drug company that made millions of dollars because of this mandate" also had made a campaign contribution to Perry in Texas.

"The company was Merck, and it was a $5,000 contribution that I had received from them. I raise about $30 million. And if you're saying that I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended," Perry retorted.

Immigration brought more criticism for Perry, who supports giving the children of illegal immigrants the same tuition breaks at state colleges and universities that other students receive.

"I'm proud we are having those individuals be contributing members of society," Perry said, adding that the policy was a state's rights issue. The audience briefly booed the answer, while his opponents again pounced.

Perry and Romney also reprised an exchange they had last week in a debate in which each claimed the superior record of job creation as governor.

"I think Gov. Perry would agree that if you're dealt four aces, that doesn't make you a terrific poker player," Romney said.

"Well, I was going to say Mitt you were doing pretty good until you got to talking poker," Perry said, provoking laughter.

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