Near the beginning of the debate, Obama said he wanted to hire more math and science teachers because the U.S. has fallen behind in these two subject areas and additional teachers "can make a difference." He claimed that his GOP challenger Mitt Romney previously told teachers this wouldn't help grow the economy.
"If we've got math teachers who are able to provide the kind of support that they need for our kids, that's what's going to determine whether or not new businesses are created here," Obama said during the debate at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. "Companies are going to locate here depending on whether we've got the most highly skilled workforce."
The president raised that argument two more times when the debate focused on the rise of China and the potential challenges it could pose to the U.S.
"If we don't have the best education system if the world, if we don't continue to put money into research and technology that will allow us to create great businesses here in the United States, that's how we lose the competition," he said. "And unfortunately Gov. Romney's budget and his proposals would not allow us to make those investments."
Obama later added that cutting the education budget and investments in research and technology "is not a smart choice," saying "that will not help us compete with China."
In response, the former Massachusetts governor continued to bring the focus of the debate back to the high unemployment rate and rising debt.
Romney argued that "it's not government that makes business successful" and "it's not government investments that makes businesses grow and hire people."
Romney argued that America's economic struggles are a roadblock to strengthening U.S. relations with China, and hammered the president's economic policies.
"Now they look at us and say, 'Is it a good idea to be with America? How strong are we going to be? How strong is our economy? They look at the fact that we owe them a trillion dollars and owe other people $16 trillion in total," he said.
The U.S. needs to take China to task for stealing American intellectual property and selling knock-offs of American-produced goods, Romney argued.
"We have to say to our friend in China, 'Look, you guys are playing aggressively and we understand it, but this can't keep on going," he said. "You can't keep on holding down the value of your currency, stealing our intellectual property, counterfeiting our products, selling them around the world, even to the United States."
"China can be our partner, but that doesn't mean they can just roll all over us and steal our jobs on an unfair basis," he said.