Today on CNN’s The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney spoke with Wolf Blitzer about his debate rituals, foreign policy and much more. A full transcript will be posted on http://archives.cnn.com/TRANSCRIPTS/sitroom.html; highlights from the interview are after the jump.
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VIDEO: Romney on debate inspiration from his father: http://on.cnn.com/QbxC8V
Mitt Romney gives an emotional response to Wolf Blitzer's question asking he writes "Dad' on a piece of paper before every debate.
THIS IS A RUSH FDCH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED
BLITZER: Let's move to issue number one here if the United States, the economy.
The Obama campaign flatly says you're lying - lying about the cost of your tax plan, your proposed tax reforms. So far, you haven't released a lot of the specifics about eliminating various deductions or loopholes or whatever. You've said that your tax cuts would be revenue neutral, you wouldn't add to the deficit.
So let's go through how you would do that, specifically, home mortgage deductions, charitable contributions.
Are you ready to remove those?
What's going on?
ROMNEY: Well, I've made it pretty clear that my principles are, number one, simplify the code; number two, create incentives for small businesses and large businesses to grow; number three, don't reduce the burden on high income taxpayers; and number four, relea - re- remove the burden somewhat from middle income people.
So I don't want to raise taxes on - on any group of Americans. Those are the principles.
At the same time, how we carry them out would be lowering the rate, the tax rate, across the board and then making up for that both with additional growth and with putting a - a limit on deductions and - and exemptions, particularly for people at the high end.
Those are principles which form the basis of what I would do with our tax proposal.
I - what I want to do is to make it simpler, fairer. I want to encourage the economy to grow again. It's pretty clear that the economy is not growing at the rate it should under the - the president.
And I can tell you, with regards to the deductions you describe, home mortgage interest deduction and charitable contributions, there will, of course, continue to be preferences for those types of expenses.
BLITZER: So even wealthy people would - would you put a cap on how much they could deduct, for example, as far as charitable contributions are concerned?
Because I've heard you mention the $17,000 cap, if you will, for some folks out there. And I'll - I'd like you to elaborate, if you don't mind.
ROMNEY: Well, I'm not going to lay out a piece of legislation here, because I intend to work together with Republicans and Democrats in Congress. But there are a number of ways one could approach this.
One would be to have a total cap number. It could be $25,000, $50,000. And people could put whatever deduction in that total cap they'd like. Or, instead, you could take the posture that Bowles-Simpson did, which is going after specific deductions and limiting them in various ways.
There are a number of ways we can accomplish the principles which I have - lowering rates for middle income people, making sure high income people don't pay a - a smaller share and simplifying the code and then encouraging growth.
So as to how we a - approach the various deduction limits, what I do know is, we're going to have to re-reduce the deductions pretty substantially for people at the high end, because I don't want to make the code less progressive.
I want high income people to continue to pay the same share they do today.
BLITZER: And so they will pay exactly the same, even though you're going to lower the - the, uh, the, uh, income tax rates for people making, let's say, more than $250,000 a year, but you're going to eliminate some loopholes and deductions, expectations, tax credits.
Is that what I'm hearing?
ROMNEY: That's right. I - I - I'll bring the rate down across the board but eliminate or limit, rather, deductions or credits and exemptions and so forth, particularly for people at the high end, because you have to do that to make sure that - that distribotion - distributionally, we - we continue to have the high income people still pay the same share, the high share, that they pay today.
BLITZER: Would that add up to the $4.8 or $5 trillion that's been estimated your tax - or your - your comprehensive tax reductions would cost?
BLITZER: Everyone now agrees, at least I think almost everyone agrees, that your debate performance in Denver last week was very strong. The president's performance was weak.
Here's a question that I'm curious about, because you prepared, obviously, a lot.
Senator Rob Portman, was he a tougher debater in those practice sessions that President Obama turned out to be?
ROMNEY: Senator Portman is very effective. I think President Obama and I both had a good chance to describe our respective views as to how we'd do a better job.
And I, frankly, think I benefited from the fact that rather than having people learn about me from ads prepared by my opposition, they got to actually hear what I would do from myself.
And - and I think that helped me.
I think the president also got to lay out his plans and people were able to make a comparison.
But as for Rob Portman, he's - he's a pretty effective guy.
BLITZER: Were you surprised by the president's performance?
ROMNEY: Uh, well, I actually thought he - he described pretty appropriately and pretty effectively his - his policies. I just happen to disagree with those policies.
And when we talked about the economy, he really is not proposing anything he hasn't talked about for the last four years, which is another stimulus, hiring more government workers, uh, picking winners and losers in - in industries that he favors, raising taxes.
These are ideas he's had for some time. And, frankly, we've tested those ideas over the last four years and they have not led to the kind of job growth Americans want.
But, uh, you know, I - I think the - the challenge that he has is - is that his ideas are - are just not demonstrating the kind of results he would hope for and people recognize that.
BLITZER: Are you confident, Governor, that Paul Ryan will take on Joe Biden Thursday night the way you took on the president?
ROMNEY: You know, I - I don't know how Paul will - will deal with his debate. Obviously, the vice president has done, I don't know, 15 or 20 debates during his lifetime, experienced debater.
This is, uh, I think Paul's first debate. I may be wrong. He may have done something in high school, I don't know.
But it'll - you know, it will be a new experience for a - for Paul. But I'm sure he'll do fine. And, frankly, Paul has the facts on his side. He has policy on his side. And we also have results on our side.
So I think he'll - I think you'll find, in the final analysis, that people make their assessment on these debates not so much by the theatrics and the smoothness of the presenter, but, instead, on whether they believe the policies being described, the pathway being described, will make their life better or not. And I - I just think the American people recognize that the president's policies are not something we can afford for four more years. We just can't afford more of what we've gone through and they want something new.
BLITZER: That 47 percent comment that you mentioned that's caused you a lot of grief, as you know, there's been a change in your position over these past few weeks. It went from, you were initially saying, once that tape came out, that you a - a - you weren't exactly elegantly stating your position.
Later and more recently, you said you were completely wrong.
I'm curious, Governor, how did that evolution in your thinking go on, from the initial reaction once that tape came out to what you said the other day, that you were completely wrong?
ROMNEY: Well, what I'm saying is that what words were that came out were not what I meant. And what I mean, I think, people understand, is that if I'm president, I'll be president of 100 percent of the people. My whole campaign is about helping the middle class have rising incomes and more jobs and helping get people out of poverty into the middle class.
That's what this whole campaign is about.
The wealthy are doing fine right now. And they'll do fine, most likely, regardless of who's elected president. It's the middle class that's having a hard time under President Obama. And my campaign is about 100 percent of the American people.
And so that - that's a - that describes why, you know, what was stated in the tape was not referring to what kind of president I would be or who I would be fighting for. Instead, it was talking about politics and it just didn't come out the way I meant it.
BLITZER: A - a quick question on Big Bird.
Was that a mistake to bring it up in the debate?
M. ROMNEY: Uh, you know, uh...
M. ROMNEY: - I think - I've been watching these last several days. And, you know, a lot of Americans are really - are really hurting. We've got 23 million Americans out of work or - or struggling to get a - a full-time job. And - and we've got one out of six Americans now in poverty, 47 million on food stamps. And the president is spending his time talking about saving Big Bird.
I'll spend my time talking about saving jobs, creating jobs, helping people get back on their feet, getting rising incomes again.
So I - I think people understand that we can't keep on spending like there's no tomorrow. We can't keep on borrowing and spending massively more than we take in every year.
And, uh, Big Bird is going to be just fine. "Sesame Street" is a very successful enterprise. Uh, I don't believe CNN gets government funding, but somehow you all stay on the air.
And, uh, I - I just think that - that PBS will be able to make it on its own, just like every one of the other stations. And it does not require us to go to China to borrow money to keep PBS on the air.
BLITZER: I've got one final question and I know you've got to go, Governor.
Your wife, Ann Romney, she had a moving story she told our own Gloria Borger in a recent interview about your ritual, as you go into a debate.
Let me play this little clip for you, because I - I want to see your reaction and I want to get your reaction on the other side.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
ANN ROMNEY, MITT ROMNEY'S WIFE: You know, it's - it's a cute thing that he does, almost every answer. He finds me in the audience. As soon as he sit - gets on stage, the first thing he does is he takes off his watch and puts it on the podium.
A. ROMNEY: But then he writes "dad," um, on the piece of paper. Um, and that's amazing because he loves his dad, respects his dad. He doesn't want to do anything that would not make his father proud.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All of us who lost a father can relate.
But give us - give us a little addition.
What - what do you think about that?
M. ROMNEY: Well, you know, every debate - she's right, I write my dad's name at the top of the piece of paper, um, to remind myself of all that he sacrificed to give me the opportunities I now have. I think about his passion, his passion for the country. Dad was devoted to ideals that, uh, that motivated him.
I mean the guy was born in Mexico with - with nothing when he came to this country, rose to be head of a car company, a - a governor. I mean my dad was the real deal. And - and his life and his memory inspires me.
So I, yes, I write his name there and - and, of course, I look at Ann every chance I get. She's usually looking down. She's - she's a little nervous during the debates. But I look to her to see if - see if she feels like I've done a good job.