Romney comes out strong in economy debate

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Perry was not asked about the bailouts, but his campaign distributed his past statements saying "government should not be in the business of using taxpayer dollars to bail out corporate America."

In the debate, sponsored by Bloomberg News and the Washington Post, Perry said the government must open the way for more production of domestic energy sources. The nation must "pull back those regulations that are strangling American entrepreneurship," Perry said.

Former pizza company executive Cain repeated his call for replacing the U.S. tax code with a 9 percent national sales tax and a 9 percent levy on personal and corporate income.

Given a chance to assail Wall Street, Minnesota Rep. Bachmann blamed too much regulation. She also said Obama wants to let Medicare collapse, pushing everyone into "Obamacare," the health overhaul passed by congressional Democrats in 2010.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich blamed Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke for the recession.

Also criticizing aspects of Obama's administration were Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman and former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, Obama defended his economic policies and criticized his Republican foes in a visit to the general election battleground of Pennsylvania.

In the debate, Gingrich said Americans have a right to be angry about the economy, but he said that the solution is firing Bernanke and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner. "If they want to really change things, the first person to fire is Bernanke, who is a disastrous chairman of the Federal Reserve. The second person to fire is Geithner," Gingrich said.

Many of Cain's rivals went after his "9-9-9" tax plan – both seriously and in jest. "I thought it was the price of a pizza when I first heard it," Huntsman joked.

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