Obama, Romney cite Apple, tech issues in debate

Romney says U.S. policies push American companies to China; Obama says research investments will keep U.S. on top

Tech issues, including high-skilled jobs creation, outsourcing, manufacturing and research investment, emerged in Tuesday's presidential debate, offering contrasts between President Barack Obama and his Republican challenger, Mitt Romney.

The candidates steered clear of tech's most radioactive issue, temporary work visas like the H-1B, and didn't mention IT offshore outsourcing specifically, though they came close.

Apple was lionized by Obama as model of success, while Romney pointed out how Apple was victimized in China.

The topic of outsourcing produced much fire between Obama and Romney, but a little too much smoke for Candy Crowley, the veteran CNN reporter who moderated the debate.

Crowley jumped in and asked the candidates about how low-wages paid to workers in some countries is seen as a driver to moving work offshore.

The exchange began with a question from audience member Carol Goldberg, who asked: "The outsourcing of American jobs overseas has taken a toll on our economy. What plans do you have to put back and keep jobs here in the United States?"

Romney replied first.

"China is now the largest manufacturer in the world," he said. "It used to be the United States of America. A lot of good people have lost jobs. A half a million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last four years. That's total over the last four years."

By mentioning China specifically, Romney was referring to a country with a broad range of manufacturing jobs.

The most prominent Chinese manufacturing jobs are in the tech industry, which includes giant companies like Foxconn. Foxconn employs more than one million workers and produces key Apple products.

In a report released this year, the National Science Foundation said U.S. high-tech manufacturing jobs reached a peak in 2000, just before the dot-com crash.

Tech manufacturing job losses were exacerbated by the recession that began in 2007 and led to the collapse to the financial sector in the fall of 2008.

In total, the NSF said high-tech manufacturing jobs have declined by 687,000, or 28%, since 2000. The NSF definition of high-tech manufacturing includes the computing machinery along with aircraft, spacecraft and pharmaceutical industries.

TechAmerica, an industry group, tracks high-tech manufacturing specifically and its research finds employment numbers that are equally stark.

According to TechAmerica, tech manufacturing employed 1.8 million people in the U.S. in 2000, but that number had fallen to 1.27 million by last year.

Romney argued that the shift of jobs from the U.S. to overseas locations is a result of U.S. policy. "We have made it less attractive for enterprises to stay here" he said.

Romney said he would implement policies that make the U.S. more attractive to entrepreneurs, and to small and big businesses, while going after China for "artificially holding down the value of their currency."

China's currency valuation "means their prices on their goods are low," said Romney, who also called for bringing down tax rates on employers and cutting regulations, while eliminating the so-called Obamacare health care program.

Obama, in response, said he agreed with Romney that the corporate tax rate should be lowered but said he disagreed with the challenger about how to do it.

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