Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama wave to the audience during the first presidential debate at the University of Denver, Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012, in Denver. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Elections 2012: Wrapping Up the Denver Debate – Big Bird, Budgets and Back to the States

Mark Trahant

The stark differences between the two presidential candidates, incumbent Barack Obama and former Mass. Gov. Mitt Romney, popped up in nearly every segment.

Romney is against Obamacare. Of course the president is for it. Romney wants health care reform to be crafted state by state. (Leaving open the question where tribes and the Indian Health system fit into that equation.)

Same with energy and the environment. Obama is for investing in alternative energy such as wind and solar. Romney the contrary. On two issues that have significant impact on Indian country – the Keystone pipeline and coal – Romney was eager. “I’m for coal,” he said proudly.

Much of the back and forth was about taxes and the nuances of those proposals. Romney changed his story on Wednesday. He said, over and over, that his plan did not cut $5 trillion. “I don’t have a tax cut of the scale you’re talking about. I think we ought to provide tax relief to people in the middle class. But I won’t reduce the share of tax paid by high-income people,” Romney said. “My number one principal is, there will be no tax cut that adds to the deficit. I want to underline that no tax cut that will add to the deficit.”

Even if the big number is off consider this: The Tax Policy Center says there is no way to meet all five of Romney’s objectives at the same time.

On television folks will be talking about who won, who lost, what sort of body language they had, and their zingers. Romney was read with his, dismissing “trickle down government.” He also said: “Mr. President, you’re entitled to your own house and your own airplane, but not your own facts.”

Obama’s best line was about Romney’s changing tax proposal. “For 18 months he’s been running on this tax plan and now, five weeks before the election, he is saying that his big, bold idea is … never mind.”

However the best zinger on the other side might have come from Politifact. It said Romney’s line on Obamacare as a government takeover was the 2011 lie of the year.

Indian country was, of course, not a part of the debate. But the role of the Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act. Romney said he would like states to run these programs as part of a block grant. But the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said to do that would require very large cuts. If Medicare was exempted, as Romney said, the cuts would have to be some 32 percent in 2016 and 53 percent in 2022. Many tribal health facilities rely on Medicaid for a substantial portion of funding – in some cases more than the Indian Health Service itself. Moreover states, not the federal government, determine eligibility even for a tribal facility. That said perhaps Romney’s logic could be extended to tribes, allowing tribes to receive Medicaid money as block grants.

Another program Romney promised to cut: Public Broadcasting. “I’m sorry, Jim, I’m gonna stop the subsidy to PBS,” Romney said. “I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actually like you, too.”

Will the Denver debate change any minds? Fewer voters than in recent elections are undecided. Especially the Romney campaign is hoping that enough people saw the debate and then will change their minds. Will it work? That will be determined over the next few days in national polls. And, more important, over the next month when people vote for one candidate or the other.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes and lives in Fort Hall, Idaho. He has been writing about Indian Country for more than three decades. His e-mail is:

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yvettejoseph's picture
Submitted by yvettejoseph on
As part of the 47 percent, I'm certain my college-aged children will vote for President Obama, as will I. Especially since Indian Country, the working poor and folks from the middle class will lose significant gains under a Romney/Ryan Administration. Mitt's whiney voice and smokey pack of half truths on the Affordable Care Act and Deficit Reduction seemed to ring lounder and longer than President Obama's statements. I wondered who occupied more air time, as Jim Leher did not seem to impose the time clock very often. Today, Tribal Leaders clearly noted that State Governments fail to uphold their responsibility in matters of law and order when it comes to safety in tribal communities. If the same applies in health services, Indian health care will be severely impacted. I hope all of Indian Country voters support President Obama in next month's election.

rezzdog's picture
Submitted by rezzdog on
Romney's desire to cut funding to PBS is on its face, foreboding. How does one de-fund a constitutional right? Another thought, Romney is anti "big labor" a different way of saying Unions. Yet, Romney calls everyone involved in responding first to the 9/11 disaster "heros". Those hero's were Union members of Fire Depts., Police Depts, Fire Fighter Unions and EMS/EMT Unions. I don't remember seeing any Romney's on the scene. So, Romney would abolish all our First Responders interests in Unions? Interesting.

tmsyr11's picture
Submitted by tmsyr11 on
Barack Obama is not concerned of the 47-percent neither. He hasn't said much if any-thing of the black vote as he knows the black will vote because for one reason......What Barack Obama is MOST concerned about is the 5-7 percent of the UNDECIDED 'right-leaning' voters (after the debate meltdown last night). : The "squeaky wheel gets the oil" ...and for those TRUE INDIAN LEADERS, (unlike this US President who strives on devisiveness than what CLINTON fulfilled as a LEADER), Indian Governments will have to take up the lead and step up for the benefit of tribal people than WAITING and WAITING AGAIN and AGAIN. It is too unfortunate for Indian people that Indian Governments are allowing the Democratic National Committee to REDEFINE who is 'INDIAN' in light of the Elizabeth Warren debacle. It is also very much distrubing the National Congress of American Indians abdicated their so-called 'role' to Democratic politics THAN TAKING A STAND. US States and US Cities throughout the Reservation-land borders are lacking sufficient and adequate public safety resources as well. Just one example. Of course part of the reason - union dues and union payouts are stifling resources of States, Cities, towns, and local governments all because these union members are receiving an abundance of dollars that could rightfully be used for public safety in states (that maybe could be used to provide dual-services to reservation-lands). State of California, cities and towns are having to shut down on basic city service on account that union pay-outs are hurting the town economy.

thechief's picture
Submitted by thechief on
I am for who ever decreases the size of the federal government. I could really care less about pbs or big bird. Although i bet big bird and elmo subsidize the rest of the programming. Its funny because I see alot of natives with bumper stickers saying that we shouldn't trust the government yet vote for trickle down government. I think as us natives evolve we will realize the most passive form of our holocaust is government benefits (turning buffalos into cows). This is precisely why our ancestors were against getting federal/state benefits. Leave us alone and let us live freely. I don't agree with Romney/Ryan on everything but if they are for cutting the gov't spending down I am for them.