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VIDEO: Romney tells Obama: 'I don't have a $5 trillion tax cut'

Mitt Romney, the GOP presidential nominee, offered a spirited defense of his tax plan at Wednesday’s debate after facing repeated claims from President Obama that it would hurt the middle class and explode the deficit.

The former Massachusetts governor said his plan to cut tax rates across-the-board would be paid for by ending tax preferences for the highest earners, and said that under no circumstances would he increase the tax burden on the middle class. 

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“If the tax plan he described were a tax plan I was asked to support, I’d say absolutely not,” Romney said at the Denver debate. “I’m not looking for a $5 trillion tax cut. What I’ve said is I won’t put in place a tax cut that adds to the deficit.” 

“High-income people are doing just fine in this economy. They’ll do fine whether you’re president or I am,” Romney said.

The debate over taxes dominated the opening segments of Wednesday’s debate, and the president and his challenger leaned heavily on ideas they have been citing on the stump — but which could be new to many voters. 

Obama continued to make the case that he had cut taxes for middle-class families in his four years in office, and that Romney’s tax plan and his push to further increase military spending would limit the government’s ability to pay for education and infrastructure.

The president also sharply questioned Romney’s tax math, citing, though not by name, a study from the Tax Policy Center that said that Romney’s plan would shift the tax burden from the wealthiest to lower earners. Obama said Romney’s plan would raise the average middle-class families’ tax bill by $2,000. 

“It’s math. It’s arithmetic,” Obama said, echoing a charge made by former President Clinton during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Romney continued to sell a tax plan that he says isn’t really a tax cut — a line of argument that some conservatives have questioned, given the GOP’s history as the tax-cutting party.

But with polls saying voters are skeptical about Obama’s performance on deficits, the GOP candidate stressed over and over that any analysis that said his plan would add to the federal debt was simply not true.

Romney also hit the president hard for his call to raise taxes on the wealthy, something he said would be an anchor on the many small business owners who pay taxes through the individual code. 

When Obama said that only about 3 percent of small businesses would be affected by his proposal, Romney countered that those companies account for roughly half of small business income and employ around half of America's workers.

“I don’t want to cost jobs. My priority is jobs,” Romney said. “And so what I do is I bring down the tax rates, lower deductions and exemptions.”

Obama refrained from attacking Romney personally on taxes, declining to mention Romney’s own roughly 14 percent tax rate or the questions that Democrats have raised about whether he paid taxes at all before 2010. 

He also didn’t mention the Republican’s videotaped comments about the 47 percent of people in the U.S. who don’t pay income taxes. 

But Obama did try to cast his plan as cut from the mold of Clinton, who has gained in popularity in recent years, while trying to tar Romney’s as a sequel to the policies of the George W. Bush administration.

“I think math, common sense, and our history shows us that’s not a recipe for job growth,” Obama said. “Look, we’ve tried this. We’ve tried both approaches. The approach that Governor Romney’s talking about is the same sales pitch that was made in 2001 and 2003.”

Obama also asserted that, while Romney has been specific in saying how he would lower rates, he has been far more vague about which tax breaks he’d be willing to curb to pay for it. 

Romney and his running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), have repeatedly said that they would work with lawmakers to figure out which incentives should be on the chopping block.

— This story was updated at 11:44 p.m.

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