President Obama and Republican candidate Romn
President Obama and Republican candidate Romn Reuters

The U.S. economy was the topic of discussion on Wednesday night, as President Barack Obama and his Republican rival, Mitt Romney, faced off in Denver for the first of three televised debates, reported AFP.

The candidates were first asked by moderator Jim Lehrer how they would create more jobs, and Obama sought to connect Romney’s economic policies to Bush policies. Romney objected and said he would “restore the vitality that gets America working again.” Obama said education is a key to economic growth.

Romney attacked Barack Obama for economic policies he said had "crushed" the American middle class.

"I'm concerned that the path we're on has just been unsuccessful," said Romney, adding, "The president has a view very similar to the view he had when he ran four years ago, that a bigger government, spending more, taxing more, regulating more -- if you will trickle-down government -- would work.

"That's not the right answer for America. I'll restore the vitality that gets America working again," he vowed. "Middle income families are being crushed, and the question is, how to get them going again."

Obama hit back by suggesting that Romney will bring in $5.4 trillion in tax cuts, particularly geared towards the wealthy, and said Romney hadn't been clear about what loopholes in the tax system he would close.

"Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes skewed toward the wealthy and cut back regulations, we'll be better off. I have a different view," Obama said, calling for "economic patriotism."

Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts, fought back hard against Obama's claims as the debate saw its first real clash of the night.

"Virtually everything he said about my tax plan is inaccurate. If the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I would say absolutely not," he said, adding: "I'm not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut."

This lead Obama to accuse his Republican challenger of backing away from his campaign pledges, as what started as a cordial series of exchanges descended into a fierce political exchange.

When the topic shifted to healthcare, Romney said he believes in lowering healthcare costs by opening insurance companies up to more competition. Obama disagreed, pointing out that private companies’ motivation for profit will make Romney’s plans impossible.

One hotly debated topic was “Obamacare”, which Romney claimed would be wrong and suggested that healthcare be left to individual states. Obama said in response that there is no indication that leaving healthcare to the states will allow people with pre-existing conditions to stay on their plan.

The President noted that over the last two years, healthcare premiums have gone up but slower than in previous years. He also pointed out that a model similar to Obamacare has worked well in Romney’s home state of Massachusetts.

Obama described Romney's plan as a voucher system that would cause seniors to pay more. Romney in response said his plan would offer seniors the choice of the government's Medicare program or insurance-run health coverage. He also said he would means-test Medicare benefits, which means high-income earners would receive lower benefits.