COLUMBIA, S.C. – In a Labor Day warm-up for this week’s presidential debate, a partial cast of Republican contenders argued Monday for turning back the clock on legislation passed at the federal level, starting with President Barack Obama’s health care law and going back nearly a century.
Repeal of the federal income tax, stripping the Supreme Court of jurisdiction over abortion and sharply cutting the powers of the Federal Reserve Bank were among the positions that found favor at a tea party-themed forum in the first Southern primary state.
Mitt Romney accused the Obama administration of departing more radically from the principles of the Constitution than any other administration in history, and singled out “Obamacare” – the law modeled in part on Romney’s state health care plan – as an example of a “massive intrusion” into the lives of ordinary Americans.
The nationally televised event was to have been Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s debut with his Republican rivals. Instead, the governor broke off campaigning in South Carolina and returned to Texas, where firefighters are battling wildfires.
Romney, who has been knocked from the lead in the polls by Perry, began reaching out recently to tea party supporters in early-voting states. He changed his schedule last week to appear at the South Carolina event, which he had planned to skip.
The candidates were questioned separately by a panel that included Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., a tea party leader who organized the Palmetto Freedom Forum as a showcase for the GOP contenders. They gave relatively little attention to jobs – other than calling for sharp reductions in federal regulations and cutting taxes – instead responding mainly to questions about social policy, immigration and the relevance of the nation’s founding principles to modern politics.
Princeton professor Robert P. George asked the candidates if, as president, they would urge Congress to legislate an end to abortion, using the power of the 14th Amendment to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade.
All the contenders, save Romney, said they would. Romney said he would prefer to let the states decide the issue rather than provoke “a constitutional crisis.”
Michele Bachmann, the Minnesota congresswoman in a fight with Perry for backing from the party’s most conservative voters, accused Obama of “acting outside of the bounds of the Constitution,” and pointed to the individual insurance mandate in the health care law. She also repeated an earlier assertion that Romney’s state health care mandate was unconstitutional.
Ron Paul, whose libertarian views have strongly influenced the tea party movement, drew cheers with his demand for bringing home all U.S. troops stationed abroad.
Georgia businessman Herman Cain joined Bachmann, Newt Gingrich and Paul in calling for a sharp reduction in the federal income tax on corporations.