• With: Dan Henninger, Kim Strassel, Jason Riley, Mary Anastasia O'Grady, Bret Stephens, Matthew Kaminski, Collin Levy

    RILEY: -- on the middle class in order to pay for tax cuts for the wealthy. He rebutted that very effectively I thought. But I would also like to see more details in terms of --


    GIGOT: But he gave a couple of details in regard to, for example, here is how you could reduce deductions and exemptions. For example, you could have a $25,000 or $50,000 limit that any one individual could use. That is a very specific example that had been offered by people like Marty Feldstein, of Harvard, as a way to make tax reform work.

    HENNINGER: And the group both of them embraced somehow, which was the Simpson-Bowles Commission. And the Simpson-Bowles Commission has -- put out three different tax rates and said, at each rate, you will have to do something with the deductions and exemptions, either eliminate all of them or retain them. Romney said, I'm going to drop rates and put all of those deductions and exemptions on the table for negotiation. Any serious person in politics knows that's the starting point for reworking the tax code. You don't have to get into the fine detail at this point.

    GIGOT: Kim, what do they have to do to maintain the momentum, the Romney campaign, coming out of this?

    STRASSEL: You see them doing it. They have now -- flooding the zone with a whole bunch of new ads going after the president both on things like the deficit, but also talking more about Mitt Romney's own plans for reform. And so they're trying to bulk up their presence out there in the swing states and really grab this momentum. And then they've also, of course, got to have a good rest of the remaining debates. No one should forget, John Kerry had a good opening debate in 2004. He still went on to lose the election.

    GIGOT: Right.

    STRASSEL: They're aware of that. And so they've got to go out there -- he's got to keep this image rolling with the public.

    GIGOT: OK.

    Much more ahead on this week's presidential debate, including Mitt Romney's takedown of Obama-care, a topic he's largely avoided on the campaign trail. So, why the change of heart?



    ROMNEY: I just don't know how the president could have come into office facing 23 million people out of work, rising unemployment, an economic crisis at the kitchen table, and spend his energy and passion for two years fighting for Obama-care instead of fighting for jobs for the American people. It has killed jobs.


    GIGOT: That was Governor Mitt Romney Wednesday night, attacking the president on his administration's signature piece of legislation, Obama- care.

    So, Mary, this is typically Democratic turf, health care. Where did Romney score on that issue?

    O'GRADY: Well, I think he did two things very effectively. One was - - remember when he first started running for president against -- in the primary when John McCain was the candidate, he tended to like to talk about data, and we even joked how he was so focused on data.

    GIGOT: Right.

    O'GRADY: This time around, Mitt Romney came out and talked about people he had met -- a woman with a baby in her arms who told him how difficult it was, a couple that was not able to afford their health care. And you know, he, I think, made the points that he needed to make about the data, but he humanized them, and I think that was a great achievement of his at the debate.

    GIGOT: Health care distraction from job creation. You inherit a recession, a financial crisis, and instead of focusing on that, Romney is saying, you spent two years trying to pass one of your big priorities in social legislation and that's hurt job creation. A powerful point.

    HENNINGER: Yes, it's a good point. But I think the health care issue is not going to go away in this debate. We're going to hear more of it. Barack Obama was defending his idea of Obama-care and Medicare. He said, for instance, that Medicare works because the insurance companies have to make a profit on top of their administrative costs. Medicare doesn't have to do that. It's has lower administrative costs and therefore it's a better deal. He said that Romney's idea of premium support, helping people buy insurance in the private marketplace, he said, all economists agree the premium support will cause Medicare to collapse.

    Now that's an arguable point. And I think that Romney is going to engage him on those issues and try to continue to make the case for private-sector health insurance.

    RILEY: What I found interesting about this exchange is, remember, Obama-care was supposed to be Romney's Achilles heel. Throughout the primaries, his rivals said he wouldn't be able to challenge on that, and I think he proved a lot of people wrong on Wednesday night.

    GIGOT: He pushed right through that and went on offense.


    RILEY: Used it as an example of his effort to reach across the aisle.

    GIGOT: Bipartisanship --


    RILEY: Bipartisanship, yes.

    GIGOT: That's interesting.

    Let's look at an ad that -- we have a big question here about how the Democrats and Obama are going to respond. Let's look at the ad they rolled out after the debate.


    OBAMA: I'm Barack Obama and I approve this message.

    ROMNEY: I'm not in favor of a $5 trillion tax cut. That's not my plan.

    ANDREA MITCHELL, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT: The non-partisan Tax Policy Center has concluded that Mitt Romney's tax plan would cost $4.8 trillion over 10 years.

    AD ANNOUNCER: Why won't Romney level with us about his tax plan which gives the wealthy huge new tax breaks? Because, according to experts, he'd have to raise taxes on the middle class or increase the deficit to pay for it. If we can't trust him here, how can we ever trust him here?


    GIGOT: Kim, first of all, I should point out, they're using the "Wall Street Journal's" name in vein once again there.


    GIGOT: We do not endorse -- in fact, we think that Tax Policy Center study is completely bogus.