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Filler: Mitt Romney's tax plans, Barack Obama's anniversary lead first presidental debate

President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee

President Barack Obama listens as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney answers a question during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver. (Oct. 3, 2012) (Credit: AP)

It begins.

The emphasis, moderator Jim Lehrer says, will be on specifics and differences between the candidates. From his lips to God's ears.

First question: What are the major differences between the two of them, in how they would go about creating new jobs?


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Obama wishes his wife a happy 20th anniversary, then talks about how horrible his challenges have been. Will he keep pivoting, or answer?

Oh, my, he answered ...

But not in a very meaningful way. Deficit reduction, tax simplification, etc., but no specifics on creating jobs.

Romney, also excited about the anniversary, then rattled off: Energy independence, better schools, balanced budget, encouraging small business. But how, sir, how?

"I'll restore the vitality..." Mitt says. Hmm.

Obama wants 100,000 new math and science teachers. He wants to keep tuition low. Actually he'd have to "make" it low, since it's already pretty darn high.

Obama's answer is essentially, "I'm already doing everything Mitt wants to do, so no worries, stick with me." I don't know if people will buy that.

But neither will people buy the Romney plans on tax cuts and military spending increases Obama says will cost $8 trillion.

They've almost flipped now. Romney is promising to make the rich pay more and cut taxes on the middle class, which is basically what Obama has been saying for his entire term.

Both, not shockingly, are pro-education. Really, really pro education. You never get a strong anti-education candidate, do you?

Romney wants a lot more fossil fuels harvested in the USA. Obama says we're getting more coal and natural gas now than we have in decades. But Romney says it's only on private lands. So?

Obama says he cut taxes on the middle class by $3,600, and he did, although in kind of a dumb, insupportable way. He did it by cutting the Social Security payroll tax, which seems to have further undermined the program without stimulating the economy. And it got people used to paying less, for no good reason.

They are going to keep arguing about what Romney's tax cut proposal would do, and to whom. It's the perfect kind of argument, because nobody has any idea what Romney's plan is, including Romney, so everyone wins this debate point. Or loses it. Whichever.

And Romney appears to be accusing his five sons of being serially dishonest with him, an odd aside.

Romney wants to bring down rates and lower deductions, because small businesses -- S-Corps he's talking about -- pay the personal rate. So what he's really espousing is a tax cut on small businesses, which is sometimes middle-class people, and sometimes rich people, and sometimes people slowly going broke. But I've never heard him give that explanation before. Interesting.

It's very hard to say who is winning this exchange. They're both doing fine, smooth, confident, articulate, but I still have no idea which deductions Romney wants to get rid of, and for whom, exactly. Nor do I believe Obama can decouple the Bush tax cut extension to let it go for the top 3 percent and keep the cuts for everyone else. So is "inexplicable versus impossible" a tie?

Obama is now painting Romney with the "Bush brush" and himself with the "Clinton Plan." Is that accurate? I'm not sure, really.

But Romney has touted a $5 trillion tax cut for months, and now he's bristling at it. He's much more effective hammering the last four years than he is touting his ideas for the next four.

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