Herman Cain's rivals for the Republican presidential nomination aggressively hammered Cain's "9-9-9" tax plan for the first 15 minutes on Tuesday night's presidential debate - while simultaneously hailing Cain for bringing it forward.
"Herman's well-meaning, and I love his boldness, and it's great," Rick Santorum said when asked about the plan.
He then pounced.
"The fact of the matter is, I mean, reports are now out that 84 percent of Americans would pay more taxes under his plan," he said, referring to a. Santorum went on to say the plan doesn't take "care of the families," since "a single person pays as much in taxes as a man and a woman raising three children." By removing incentives for people to have children, he added, Cain's plan risks pushing U.S. birth rates "into the basement."
Rick Perry opened his criticism of the plan with "Herman, I love you, brother" - and then added that once he lays out his own plan later this week, "I'll bump plans with you, brother, and we'll see who has the best idea about how you get this country working again." Perry said a plan that puts a federal sales tax on top of state sales taxes - or that adds a sales tax in states that lack them - is "not going to fly."
"I think that Herman Cain deserves a lot of credit," said Newt Gingrich. "He has had the courage to go out and take a specific very big idea at the right level."
Yet, he added, "there are much more complexities than Herman lets on."
"I mean, 9-9-9, when you get into details like you pay it on a new product, you don't pay it on an old product, et cetera, there's a lot more detail here than he lets on," he said.
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Michele Bachmann said Cain's plan would risk letting Congress run up taxes and suggested Cain was instituting a value-added tax "because at every step and stage of production, you'd be taxing that item 9 percent on the profit."
Cain defended himself by repeatedly suggesting that his rivals were "mixing apples and oranges." The former Godfather's Pizza CEO said the analysis of his plan being put forth by his campaign shows that his critics are wrong. He said his plan would not raise taxes on low income people and would be revenue neutral - the opposite of what most analyses have found. He also plan did not amount to a value-added tax.
"The reason that our plan is being attacked so much is because lobbyists, accountants, politicians, they don't want to throw out the current tax code and put in something that's simple and fair," he said. "They want to continue to be able to manipulate the American people with a 10-million-word mess."
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Mitt Romney asked Cain to confirm that his plan would add federal sales tax to state sales taxes, prompting Cain to repeat his claim that an "apples and oranges comparison" was being made.
"Fine," he replied. "And I'm going to be getting a bushel basket that has apples and oranges in it because I've got to pay both taxes, and the people in Nevada don't want to pay both taxes."
Cain, who was under perhaps more scrutiny in this debate than any of his rivals, called on Americans to examine the plan for themselves.
"We simply remove the hidden taxes that are in goods and services with our plan and replace it with a single rate 9 percent," he said. "I invite every family to do your own calculations with that arithmetic."