Romney Defends Corporate Record, Considers Releasing Tax Returns in SC Debate

Mitt Romney SC GOP Debate H 2012
Fox News

GOP rivals suggest lower tax rates, cuts in unemployment benefits during the debate, which aired live on Fox News.

Amid a constant barrage of criticism from his Republican rivals at a Fox News debate Monday, GOP front-runner Mitt Romney defended his record at Bain Capital, called for increasing defense spending while cutting taxes, and reluctantly said he would consider releasing his income tax records in April.

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"I looked what was done in the past," Romney said of the tax records issue. He said he found that, generally, candidates release their records in April. "That's probably what I'm going to do."

His competitors, gathered for the latest GOP presidential debate in South Carolina, were not satisfied with his answer, however. They urged him to release his tax records immediately.

"We need to satisfy the country that whoever we nominate has a record that can stand up to Barack Obama in a very effective way," said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.

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Texas Gov. Rick Perry added: "We need for you to release your income tax so people of this country can see how you made your money….We cannot fire our nominee in September. We need to know now."

Gingrich and Perry took Romney to task on his record at Bain Capital, a private equity firm that bought faltering companies and attempted to remake them -- often by laying off workers.

Perry accused Romney's firm of leaving a steel mill in Georgetown, South Carolina, in ruins. "Bain swept in, they picked that company over and a lot of people lost jobs there," he said.

Romney said that the steel mill's woes were caused by China and others that unfairly "dumping steel" into the market. He also said that Bain Capital's involvement in four other companies resulted in a gain of 120,000 jobs.

Other highlights from the Fox News debate:

* Gingrich defended his decision to broadcast air negative ads about Romney in New Hampshire and South Carolina. "Staying positive through Iowa proved that you have to unilaterally disarm and leave the race, or you have to at least bring up your opponents recored," Gingrich said.

* Romney called the ads being aired by Gingrich's super PAC "the biggest hoax since Big Foot." The ads include footage from a documentary film about Romney time at Bain. The film includes interviews with workers lost their jobs. "I had no involvement like what they described," Romney said.

* All five candidates tried to outdo each other when asked about cutting federal taxes. Romney said he wants a flat rate of 25%, Perry called for 20% rate, Gingrich said 15%; former Sen. Rick Santorum called for 28%; and Rep. Ron Paul said "zero."

*Paul said his views on war spending are often misunderstood. To clarify, he said he's in favor of increasing defense spending by cutting military spending. "There's a difference," he said. Take for example the money spent to build a new embassy in Baghdad. "You consider that defense spending, I call that waste."

*Santorum and Gingrich say the current unemployment insurance structure, with up to 99 weeks of benefits, needs to be scaled back. "We're not doing people any favors by keeping them on unemployment for so long," Gingrich said, adding that Obama is the "best food-stamp president in American history."