Presidential Candidates Face Off Tonight in First Debate

DENVER (AP) – Offering deficit-cutting ideas before his first debate with President Barack Obama, Mitt Romney says he might be willing to reduce income tax deductions used by millions of families for home mortgage interest and health care costs.

He suggested the changes could be part of a plan that includes a 20-percent cut in tax rates across the board, continuation of upper income tax cuts that Obama wants to end and a comprehensive tax overhaul plan that the Republican presidential contender has so far declined to flesh out in detail. Romney says his overall plans would invigorate the still-faltering U.S. economy.

Both Romney and Obama spent their time mostly in private on Tuesday, preparing for the debate, the president in Henderson, Nev., near Las Vegas, Romney already in Denver where the faceoff will take place at 9 p.m. today. Neither held public campaign events, but Obama took a break from preparation to visit nearby Hoover Dam, and Romney picked up lunch at a Chipotle Mexican Grill near his hotel.

In an interview Monday night, Romney said, “As an option you could say everybody’s going to get up to a $17,000 deduction. And you could use your charitable deduction, your home mortgage deduction, or others – your health care deduction, and you can fill that bucket, if you will, that $17,000 bucket that way. And higher-income people might have a lower number.”

A Romney adviser said changes in other areas – a taxpayer’s personal exemption and the deduction or credit for health care – would also be taken into account if deductions were limited as Romney suggested. Combining changes to those two areas with the limit on deductions would maintain Romney’s goal of keeping tax burdens the same for wealthy and middle income taxpayers, the adviser said.

On another subject, in a separate local interview ahead of the debate, Romney said he would honor the temporary permission the Obama administration has granted to many young illegal immigrants to allow them to stay in the country.

Obama announced in June that he would prevent deportation for some children brought to the United States by illegal immigrant parents. Applicants must not have a serious criminal record and must meet other requirements, such as graduating from high school or serving in the U.S. military.

Romney had previously refused to say whether he would retain the policy if he won the election.

He granted the interviews as he and Obama looked ahead to the debate, the first of three they will hold before Election Day.

Away from Denver, the campaign pressed ahead Tuesday in ads, in courts and in local election officials’ offices across the states.

The Romney-supporting independent group Crossroads GPS launched an $11 million, 10-day ad campaign in eight swing states. Its new ad criticizes Obama’s assertion that unemployment would fall if Congress passed his proposed stimulus law. The national unemployment rate still stands above 8 percent.

No president since World War II has won re-election with the unemployment rate above 7.2 percent.