US presidential debate liveblog

Our US blogger Nicky Woolf will be live-blogging the Presidential debate, which starts at 2am UK time. Come back then to join in.

Live feed of the event can be found here:



Romney's closing statement: "This is an important election, and I'm concerned about America - about the direction America's been taking in the last four years."

"I will keep America strong," he finishes.

I'm going to give the win for Romney on points. The crowd here at Obama HQ don't seem that fired up. But he's lowered his expectations now; the stories tomorrow will feature a Romney win - but that means Obama is set up for an out-of-the-park hit on foreign policy.

Next up is the Vice-Presidential debate. Ryan vs Biden, on October 11. Could be a good one...

Thank you and goodnight.



Obama is closing with a list of his greates hits. "repealed don't ask don't tell, went after al quaeda and bin laden, ended the war in Iraq and Afghanistan."

His closing statement: "Four years ago, we were going through a major crisis. And yet, my faith and confidence in the american future is undiminished; the reason is because of it's people..." he lists examples. "The Auto workers that you meet in Toledo" - cheers from the crowd here in Toledo." He seems rattled.



The first new policy proposal of the debate: Romney "I propose we grade our schools... let's let people choose their schools. I've been there: Massachusetts schools are ranked first in the nation."

Meanwhile, Adam Gabbatt drags us kicking and screaming into the 21st century. And a galaxy far away, and a long, long time ago.



It's taken him a while to get there, but Romney's finally said the G-word. Ladbrokes calls it:



As the candidates get technical about pre-existing conditions, Twitter is getting bored.

Next up: the role of government.


A great line from Obama: "the irony is, we've seen [the Obamacare] model before: in Massachusetts!" Romney is havering, defending the difference simply on the matter of bipartisanship.

"We didn't cut medicare," he says. "Of course, we didn't have medicare..." he's playing for time now, mixing up his words. "We have to have a President who can reach across the aisle."

Obama takes the opening. "The fact of the matter is, we used the same advisers. And it's the same plan."

Meanwhile, Jonathan Freedland says what Obama perhaps ought to:



Next segment is healthcare - Obamacare, essentially. Here, Jim Lehrer says, he knows there is a clear difference between the two candidates.

Romney making his first attack: on the expense of insurance; and saying that it kills jobs. Obama has little difficulty swatting him away, making the case very ably for the Affordable Care act. "Though I've come to quite like the term [Obamacare]"



Mitt Romney admitting that the banking system needs regulation elicits the first grin of the evening from the President that isn't a rictus. He's on safer ground here, and he's capitalising it well. "Governor Romney has said he wants to repeal Dodd-Frank. Roll it back. So the question is: does anybody out there think that the big problem we had was too much regulation and oversight of Wall Street? If you do, Governor Romney is your candidate..."

Point: Obama.



Obama appears to be missing the opportunity to pummel Romney on Medicaid and Social Security - especially for picking Ryan, who wanted to eliminate Social Security.

From the Managing Editor of Foreign Policy magazine:


"You want to turn Medicare into a voucher program," says Obama. "That's for future people," Romney interrupts. "So if you're 54, 55 - you may want to listen to this," snaps back the President. His first good counterattack.



"I've been in business for 25 years, and... I don't know what you're talking about!" exclaims the Governor.

"I maybe need to get a new accountant" is not a line that will serve him well, though.

Segment 3 is Entitlements, coming up.



Romney interrupts Obama again. Whatever he's been doing in his debate preps with Rob Portman have been working. I hate to say it, but he's on fire. Obama's sober, serious, academic approach to this is flailing in the face of Romney's passion. Obama needs to get his down-home hat on, double-quick; you can see on his face - Romney's ambushed him.



Obama, as the incumbent in a section about the debt and the deficit, is on the back foot - while Romney appears to be on a roll. The challenger is funnier, and looks more human. Obama over-serious, almost staid.  He's talking about Bush - that's how much on the defensive the President is right now.



The Twittersphere is critical of Obala's style tonight. The Daily Beast's Andrew Sullivan outlines the problem:


Romney looks like he's having fun, while Obama looks like he's finding out that it's tough to be the overdog...



"Everything he's just said about my tax plan is inaccurate," says a suddenly outraged Romney. He's trying to paint Obama into a corner of not understanding economic issues - a narrative that suits him. It's working. Romney's on a good run here. "For me this is about jobs," he says.

"For 18 months he's been running on this tax plan," says Obama, "now, he's saying that his big, bold idea is: never mind". He whacks in "it's arithmetic", the line that served Bill Clinton so well in his speech to the DNC.



Romney, who people are starting to see as an elitist, is trying to get back some headway on the middle class. "Higher income Americans will be fine whether you're President or I am. It's middle income Americans who are suffering," he says. Interestingly, he doesn't appear to be able to bring himself to say the word "class". He's got his favourite line about gas prices doubling in there, though.



The candidates are hitting their topic targets early on. Obama is straight in there with "the auto industry is roaring ahead," while Romney gets quickly on to his promise to be tough on China. 



Here are the topics of the six segments: There will be three on the economy, one on healthcare, the role of government, and governance.

The healthcare one is likely to be the interesting one.

"Jobs" is the first topic.


Two minutes to go.

Obama will be looking for any opportunity tonight to drop the "General Motors is alive" line. That's his big vote-winner here in Ohio, where one in every eight jobs depends on the auto industry.

Romney's pitch is more difficult: he has to convince everyone that he has the best ideas to cut the deficit- Obama will press him hard on where the money's coming from, especially alongside Romney's promised tax cuts.



One of the field organisers is making a brief pre-debate speech. "Who's voted already?" a few hands are up. "We really want everyone to get out and vote early," she says. Early voting in Ohio opened yesterday, and both parties are pushing people hard to get out and vote early. A vote in the bank is worth two in the bush, or something like that.



The New York Times' Nate Silver on just how important Ohio is in this election:



A full house here in Toledo campaign HQ, a converted warehouse in downtown - about 60 or 70 people are sat around eating pizza and waiting for the debate to start on a big projector screen. There's an excited buzz.

The debate will work as follows. There will be six topic areas, with 15 minutes spend on each. The moderator - NewsHour's Jim Lehrer - will ask a question, and each candidate will have two minutes to respond, followed by debate over which Lehrer will preside. It's quite free-form; plenty of room for someone to get tripped up if they haven't done their homework.



The Guardian, by the way, are life-giffing tonight's debate along with Tumblr. Alex Hern explains the process here, and you can find the Guardian's coverage here.



The Guardian's Ewan McAskill agrees with me about Romney:




As I said when I introduced the New Statesman's Debate Drinking Game earlier today, the President has to be amazing tonight to meet expectations while Romney only has to not screw up to exceed them. Then again, Dandre next to me might be satisfied - Presidential debates can often turn out surprises - such as when Gerald Ford made the incredulous and in the end election-losing comment that there was "no Soviet domination in Eastern Europe"... in 1976. Will there be a surprise like that tonight?



Hello! I'm here in the Obama for America North-West Ohio headquarters in the auto-industry town of Toledo. There's a good crowd here for the debate. Sat next to me is Dandre, who's ten years old. What excites him about tonight? "To see the President; just to know he's the President," he says. What's he expecting to see tonight? "I don't know. I hope it's a surprise."

You can follow the New Statesman's live blog here, and watch the live feed here:, and I'll be tweeting the debate @NickyWoolf.


University of Denver students Zach Gonzales (L) and Dia Mohamed stand in for U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney during a dress rehearsal. Photograph: Getty Images

Nicky Woolf is reporting for the New Statesman from the US. He tweets @NickyWoolf.

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Q&A: What are tax credits and how do they work?

All you need to know about the government's plan to cut tax credits.

What are tax credits?

Tax credits are payments made regularly by the state into bank accounts to support families with children, or those who are in low-paid jobs. There are two types of tax credit: the working tax credit and the child tax credit.

What are they for?

To redistribute income to those less able to get by, or to provide for their children, on what they earn.

Are they similar to tax relief?

No. They don’t have much to do with tax. They’re more of a welfare thing. You don’t need to be a taxpayer to receive tax credits. It’s just that, unlike other benefits, they are based on the tax year and paid via the tax office.

Who is eligible?

Anyone aged over 16 (for child tax credits) and over 25 (for working tax credits) who normally lives in the UK can apply for them, depending on their income, the hours they work, whether they have a disability, and whether they pay for childcare.

What are their circumstances?

The more you earn, the less you are likely to receive. Single claimants must work at least 16 hours a week. Let’s take a full-time worker: if you work at least 30 hours a week, you are generally eligible for working tax credits if you earn less than £13,253 a year (if you’re single and don’t have children), or less than £18,023 (jointly as part of a couple without children but working at least 30 hours a week).

And for families?

A family with children and an income below about £32,200 can claim child tax credit. It used to be that the more children you have, the more you are eligible to receive – but George Osborne in his most recent Budget has limited child tax credit to two children.

How much money do you receive?

Again, this depends on your circumstances. The basic payment for a single claimant, or a joint claim by a couple, of working tax credits is £1,940 for the tax year. You can then receive extra, depending on your circumstances. For example, single parents can receive up to an additional £2,010, on top of the basic £1,940 payment; people who work more than 30 hours a week can receive up to an extra £810; and disabled workers up to £2,970. The average award of tax credit is £6,340 per year. Child tax credit claimants get £545 per year as a flat payment, plus £2,780 per child.

How many people claim tax credits?

About 4.5m people – the vast majority of these people (around 4m) have children.

How much does it cost the taxpayer?

The estimation is that they will cost the government £30bn in April 2015/16. That’s around 14 per cent of the £220bn welfare budget, which the Tories have pledged to cut by £12bn.

Who introduced this system?

New Labour. Gordon Brown, when he was Chancellor, developed tax credits in his first term. The system as we know it was established in April 2003.

Why did they do this?

To lift working people out of poverty, and to remove the disincentives to work believed to have been inculcated by welfare. The tax credit system made it more attractive for people depending on benefits to work, and gave those in low-paid jobs a helping hand.

Did it work?

Yes. Tax credits’ biggest achievement was lifting a record number of children out of poverty since the war. The proportion of children living below the poverty line fell from 35 per cent in 1998/9 to 19 per cent in 2012/13.

So what’s the problem?

Well, it’s a bit of a weird system in that it lets companies pay wages that are too low to live on without the state supplementing them. Many also criticise tax credits for allowing the minimum wage – also brought in by New Labour – to stagnate (ie. not keep up with the rate of inflation). David Cameron has called the system of taxing low earners and then handing them some money back via tax credits a “ridiculous merry-go-round”.

Then it’s a good thing to scrap them?

It would be fine if all those low earners and families struggling to get by would be given support in place of tax credits – a living wage, for example.

And that’s why the Tories are introducing a living wage...

That’s what they call it. But it’s not. The Chancellor announced in his most recent Budget a new minimum wage of £7.20 an hour for over-25s, rising to £9 by 2020. He called this the “national living wage” – it’s not, because the current living wage (which is calculated by the Living Wage Foundation, and currently non-compulsory) is already £9.15 in London and £7.85 in the rest of the country.

Will people be better off?

No. Quite the reverse. The IFS has said this slightly higher national minimum wage will not compensate working families who will be subjected to tax credit cuts; it is arithmetically impossible. The IFS director, Paul Johnson, commented: “Unequivocally, tax credit recipients in work will be made worse off by the measures in the Budget on average.” It has been calculated that 3.2m low-paid workers will have their pay packets cut by an average of £1,350 a year.

Could the government change its policy to avoid this?

The Prime Minister and his frontbenchers have been pretty stubborn about pushing on with the plan. In spite of criticism from all angles – the IFS, campaigners, Labour, The Sun – Cameron has ruled out a review of the policy in the Autumn Statement, which is on 25 November. But there is an alternative. The chair of parliament’s Work & Pensions Select Committee and Labour MP Frank Field has proposed what he calls a “cost neutral” tweak to the tax credit cuts.

How would this alternative work?

Currently, if your income is less than £6,420, you will receive the maximum amount of tax credits. That threshold is called the gross income threshold. Field wants to introduce a second gross income threshold of £13,100 (what you earn if you work 35 hours a week on minimum wage). Those earning a salary between those two thresholds would have their tax credits reduced at a slower rate on whatever they earn above £6,420 up to £13,100. The percentage of what you earn above the basic threshold that is deducted from your tax credits is called the taper rate, and it is currently at 41 per cent. In contrast to this plan, the Tories want to halve the income threshold to £3,850 a year and increase the taper rate to 48 per cent once you hit that threshold, which basically means you lose more tax credits, faster, the more you earn.

When will the tax credit cuts come in?

They will be imposed from April next year, barring a u-turn.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.