HANOVER, N.H. — Surging Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain came under fire for his 9-9-9 tax plan in a debate Tuesday night, as rivals sought to slow his sudden momentum into the top tier of contenders for the GOP nomination.
“I thought it was the price of a pizza,” said former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman of the proposal from Cain, a former CEO of the Godfathers pizza chain. “We need something that’s doable, doable, doable.”
“The last thing you would do is give Congress another pipeline at a revenue stream,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota. “Once you get another revenue stream, you’re never going to get rid of it.”
Cain, who’s rocketed into first or second place in several national and early-state polls, jumped to defend his proposal to replace the federal income tax with a 9 percent national sales tax, a 9 percent flat personal income tax and a 9 percent flat corporate income tax.
“It will pass,” Cain said. “It’s been well studied and well developed. ... It will pass because the American people want it to pass.”
The argument over Cain’s tax plan was among the economic issues highlighted in the debate at Dartmouth College, co-sponsored by The Washington Post and the Bloomberg business news service.
In a split-screen view, the candidates offered their economic prescriptions at the same time the Senate was taking a test vote on President Barack Obama’s proposed $447 billion plan to boost the economy with tax cuts and spending on public works projects. The Senate failed to muster the 60 votes needed to bring the bill to a vote.
It was the first debate since a Florida showdown on Sept. 22 that led to a drop in support for Texas Gov. Rick Perry and a surge of support for Cain.
Heading into the New Hampshire debate, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney led the pack in polls, as he did last summer. He had the support of 24 percent in a new national poll for debate co-sponsors Bloomberg and The Washington Post, followed by Cain with 16 percent and Perry with 13 percent.
Romney also led in the first two states to vote for the nomination. He led in Iowa by 26-20 percent over the surging Cain, according to an NBC-Marist poll, and he led in New Hampshire with 45 percent, trailed by Cain and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, each with 13 percent.
Romney held himself out as a leader who’d break Washington gridlock, looking to consolidate his return to the top of polls on the same day he rolled out a coveted endorsement from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.
“I’d be prepared to be a leader,” Romney said in the debate, where he and seven rivals sat around a table talk-show style. “Three years ago we selected a person who’d never had any leadership experience, never worked in the private sector, never had the opportunity to actually bring people together, and he hasn’t been able to do so.
“The real course for America is to have someone who’s a leader, who can identify people in both parties who care more about the country than they care about getting reelected. There are Democrats like that. There are Republicans like that.”
Perry, asked when he would unveil a specific jobs plan as Romney has done, said he’d proposed a plan to create 1.2 million jobs by allowing more oil and gas production, but declined to offer more specifics. “I’m not going to lay it all out for you tonight,” he said. “Mitt’s had six years.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich ripped Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, saying he has secretly spent hundreds of billions of dollars without accountability. “It is corrupt and it is wrong for one man to have that kind of secret power,” he said.
Paul, who’s long criticized the Federal Reserve, said he did help manage a partial audit of the central bank that revealed $5 trillion in aid going to overseas banks.
Also participating: former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania.