Republican presidential contenders attacked Herman Cain's economic plan Tuesday night as a tax increase waiting to happen, moving swiftly in campaign debate to blunt the former businessman's unlikely rise in the race for the party's nomination.
Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota led the assault moments after the debate began, saying Cain's call for a 9 percent federal sales tax would only be the beginning, with the rate rising later.
Former Sen. Rick Santorum wasn't nearly as gentle, citing one analysis that found that taxes would go up for 84 percent of the nation's households if Cain's proposal went into effect. "We're talking about major increases in taxes," he said, adding that a single person and a couple with children with the same income would pay the same tax under Cain's proposal.
Undeterred, Cain insisted the charges were untrue. He said he was being criticized because lobbyists, accountants and others "want to continue to be able to manipulate the American people with a 10-million- word mess," the current tax code.
Cain's proposal is for a 9 percent personal income tax, a 9 percent corporate tax and a 9 percent national sales tax.
The former pizza company CEO is the latest and unlikeliest phenomenon in the race to pick a rival for President Barack Obama. A black man in a party that draws few votes from Africans Americans, he had bumped along with little notice as former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney sought to fend off one fast-rising rival after another.
That all changed in the past few weeks, after Texas Gov. Rick Perry burst into the race and then struggled. However unlikely Cain's rise, Tuesday night's debate made clear that none of his rivals are willing to let him go unchallenged.
"I love you, brother, but let me tell you something, you don't have to pay a big analysis to figure this out," Perry said to Cain. "Go to New Hampshire where they don't have an income tax and they don't have any interest in one," he said, referring to the state that will hold the first primary early next year.