Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney went after Perry twice early on in the debate in Tampa. When Perry called Social Security a "Ponzi scheme" that needs to be "transformed" so it will still exist when today's young people reach retirement age, Romney said referring to the retirement program as a criminal enterprise was "over the top and frightening to people."
Later, after Perry touted the success his state has had in gaining jobs even during tough economic times nationally, Romney said Perry had been "dealt four aces" since Texas is a right-to-work state, has a Republican legislature, is light on regulation and blessed with having oil reserves under foot.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul also got after Perry, saying his taxes have doubled under Perry, and cited statistics he said show the state isn't in as good shape as the governor maintains. But, he jibed, "I don't want to offend the governor because he might raise my taxes."
Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann went hard after Perry, citing the governor's ties to Merck, the maker of the HPV cervical cancer vaccine Perry ordered be administered to young girls in Texas. Perry responded that he had received just $5,000 in contributions from Merck out of the millions of dollars he has raised and "if you are saying I can be bought for $5,000, I'm offended."
Bachmann retorted she is offended for young girls made to have the vaccinations.
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania then jumped in, saying the government shouldn't be inoculating girls who aren't likely to get cervical cancer in school.
Perry said mandating HPV vaccinations was a mistake but argued "cervical cancer is a horrible way to die." He said if elected president he would use executive orders to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, healthcare reform legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.
Paul, who has strong libertarian leanings, said he would never use executive orders to affect national policy.
Bachmann said it's time to quit promising Americans the federal government will keep providing them with more in terms of retirement, healthcare and housing.
"We have to recognize that going forward this isn't going to work anymore," the Minnesota congresswoman said, adding it's time to get back to an "ownership society" and "we can't be ashamed of that."
She said she "won't rest" until "Obamacare" is revoked.
Paul twice said a key way to put the country on sound financial footing would be to get out of the two wars it is fighting. But he also suggested weaning people off Social Security.
Businessman Herman Cain said Social Security is broken and his solution is to allow people the option of personal retirement accounts without current seniors being affected.
Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman said when it comes to dealing with entitlement programs, "I don't think anything should be off the table except maybe some of the drama going on here today."
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich said he wasn't worried about Republicans' rhetoric scaring people since "President Obama scares them every single day." Government, Gingrich said, doesn't create jobs, people do. He said getting back to a full-employment economy would solve the financial problems but also recommended allowing personal retirement accounts.
Santorum said he has been warning of the coming problems with Social Security since 1994 and has a "track record of concrete proposals" but didn't offer specifics.
On taxes, Bachmann says she wants a zero percent corporate tax rate, while Cain recommended tossing the tax code and going with his 9 percent solution for corporations and a national sales tax, and Huntsman said he would get rid of the "cobwebs" -- loopholes -- and lower rates.
Perry said while Obama wants to raise taxes, he would cut them and the economy would "take off like a rocket ship."
The Tampa debate was sponsored by CNN and the Tea Party Express.