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Republicans Assail Obama, Not Each Other in Debate

By Philip Elliott - June 13, 2011

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Even when they differed, the White House hopefuls did so in muted terms.

Santorum said he wholeheartedly supported Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan's proposal to turn Medicare into a program in which the government subsidizes beneficiaries who would seek coverage from private insurance companies. Under the current system, the government pays doctors and other health care providers directly.

Pawlenty said he would have a plan of his own that shared some features with Ryan's but would differ on other points.

The program's finances are perilous, and Republican calls for fundamental change are at the heart of a roiling debate in Congress that is expected to extend into the 2012 campaign for the White House and both houses of Congress.

Cain bluntly told one questioner he was unlikely ever to receive in benefits from the money he has paid in through payroll taxes during his working life.

Gingrich, who was attacked by fellow conservatives when he criticized Ryan's proposal for being mandatory, said, "When you're dealing with something as big as Medicare ... you better slow down. ... If you can't convince the American people it's a good idea, maybe it's not a good idea."

Gingrich, Bachmann, Romney and Pawlenty all pledged to seek repeal of the health care law that Obama won from Congress earlier in his term. The others on stage hold the same position.

Romney and Paul both said the United States should withdraw U.S. troops from Afghanistan, but disagreed on a timetable.

Romney said that generals in Afghanistan should guide the pullout schedule of American troops based on conditions on the ground. He said the troops should come home as soon as possible under those conditions. Paul said the president must tell generals what to do. He said if he were president he would begin withdrawing troops almost immediately. He said the United States has no purpose fighting a war in Afghanistan.

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman did not participate in the event. He is expected to announce his candidacy within a few weeks.

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© 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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