Biden, Ryan go at each other on everything

Biden, Ryan go at each other on everything

Credit: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Republican vice presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) (R) participate in the vice presidential debate as moderator Martha Raddatz looks on at Centre College October 11, 2012 in Danville, Kentucky.

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by Associated Press

NWCN.com

Posted on October 11, 2012 at 6:25 PM

Updated Thursday, Oct 11 at 10:07 PM

DANVILLE, Ky.  -- At odds early and often, Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan squabbled over the economy, taxes, Medicare and more Thursday night in a contentious, interruption-filled debate. "That is a bunch of malarkey," the vice president retorted after a particularly tough Ryan attack on the administration's foreign policy.

"I know you're under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don't interrupt each other," Ryan said later to his rival, referring to Democratic pressure on Biden to make up for President Barack Obama's listless performance in last week's debate with Mitt Romney.

There was nothing listless this time as the 69-year-old Biden sat next to the 42-year old Wisconsin congressman on a stage at Centre College in Kentucky.

Ninety minutes after the initial disagreement over foreign policy, the two men clashed sharply over steps to reduce federal deficits.

"The president likes to say he has a plan," Ryan said, but in fact "he gave a speech" and never backed it up with details.

Biden conceded Republicans indeed have a plan, but he said if it were enacted, it would have "eviscerated all the things the middle class care about.”

The debate took place a little more than a week after Obama and Romney met in the first of their three debates -- an encounter that has fueled a Republican comeback in opinion polls.

With Democrats eager for Biden to show the spark the president lacked, he did so.

Unprompted, he brought up the video in which Romney had said 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, view themselves as victims and do not take responsibility for their own lives.

"It's about time they take responsibility" instead of signing pledges to avoid raising taxes, Biden said -- of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.

The serial disagreements started immediately after the smiles and handshakes of the opening.

Ryan said in the debate's opening moments that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had been denied sufficient security by administration officials. Stevens died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11.

"Not a single thing he said is accurate," Democrat Biden shot back.

Republicans and Democrats alike have said in recent days the presidential race now approximates the competitive situation in place before the two political conventions. The two men are generally separated by a point or two in national public opinion polls and in several battleground states, with Obama holding a slender lead in Ohio and Wisconsin.

Both the president and Romney campaigned in battleground states during the day before ceding the spotlight to their political partners for the evening.

In Kentucky, Biden and Ryan seemed primed for a showdown from their opening moments on stage, and neither seemed willing to let the other have the final word. They interrupted each other repeatedly -- and moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC as well.

With Democrats eager for Biden to show the spark the president lacked, he did so.

Unprompted, he brought up the video in which Romney had said 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, view themselves as victims and do not take responsibility for their own lives.

"It's about time they take responsibility" instead of signing pledges to avoid raising taxes, Biden said -- of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.

But Ryan quickly turned to dreary economic statistics -- 23 million are struggling to work, he said, and 15 percent of the country is living in poverty. "This is not what a real recovery looks like.”

Medicare was a flashpoint, as well. Ryan said Obama's health care plan had diverted $716 billion from the program for seniors and created a new board that could deny care to patients who need it.

Democrats "haven't put a credible solution on the table," he said. "They'll tell you about vouchers. They'll say all these things to try to scare people.”

Biden quickly said that Ryan had authored not one but two proposals in which seniors would be given government payments that might not cover the entirety of their care. Otherwise, he said, the Romney-Ryan approach wouldn't achieve the savings they claimed.

Unlike Obama, Biden had no qualms about launching a personal attack on Romney.

After Ryan argued that Romney's plan would pay for reduced tax rates by eliminating tax loopholes for the wealthy, Biden noted that on a recent interview on CBS' "60 Minutes," Romney defended the 14 percent tax rate he pays on his $20 million income as fair, even though it's a lower rate than some lower income taxpayers pay.

"You think these guys are going to go out there and cut those loopholes," Biden asked, addressing the national TV audience.

Across 90 minutes, the two men agreed precisely once.

That was when Ryan, referring to the war in Afghanistan, said the calendar was the same each year. Biden agreed to that, but not to the underlying point, which was that it was a mistake for Obama to have announced a date for the withdrawal of the remainder of the U.S. combat troops.

The fiercest clash over foreign policy came in the debate's opening moments, when Ryan cited events across the Middle East as well as Stevens' death in Libya as evidence that the administration's foreign policy was unraveling. The Republican also said the administration had failed to give Stevens the same level of protection as the U.S. ambassador in Paris receives.

Biden rebutted by saying that the budget that Ryan authored as chairman of the House Budget Committee had cut the administration's funding request for diplomatic security by $300 million.

On the nation's economy, both men were asked directly when his side could reduce unemployment to 6 percent from the current 7.8 percent. Both men sidestepped.

Biden repeated the president's contention that the nation is moving in the right direction, while Ryan stated the Republican view that economic struggle persists even though Democrats had control of both houses of Congress during the first two years of Obama's term.

"Where are the 5 million green jobs" we were told would be created? Ryan said to Biden.

Obama campaigned in Florida during the day. Mocking recent changes in Romney's rhetoric, he told a rally in Miami rally, "After running for more than a year in which he called himself severely conservative, Mitt Romney is trying to convince you that he was severely kidding.”

Romney visited with 93-year-old Billy Graham in North Carolina before speaking to an evening rally in Asheville, N.C. "Prayer is the most helpful thing you can do for me," he told the evangelist.

For Biden, Thursday night's debate was his first since the 2008 campaign, when he shared a stage with Sarah Palin, then John McCain's running mate.

Ryan spars frequently with Democrats during debates on legislation on the House floor and in the House Budget Committee, which he chairs, but not in a one-on-one encounter covering 90 minutes and a virtually unlimited range of topics.

For all their differences, the two men shared a common objective, to advance the cause of their tickets in a close race for the presidency -- and avoid a gaffe that might forever seal their place in the history of debates.

Romney's choice of Ryan as running mate over the summer cheered conservatives in the House, many of whom regard him as their leader on budget and economic issues. The seven-term lawmaker has authored a pair of deficit-reducing budgets in the past two years that call for spending cuts and changes in Medicare, blueprints that Republicans passed through the House and Obama and his allies in Congress frequently criticize. He also champions a no-tax increase approach to economic policy.

As a senator before becoming vice president, Biden was chairman of the Foreign Relations and Judiciary committees, and he has long experience in national security issues. More recently, he was Obama's point man in arduous, ultimately unsuccessful negotiations with Republicans on steps to cut the deficit.

Both Ryan and Biden held extensive rehearsals, with stand-ins for their opponents.

Biden turned to Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who is well-versed in Ryan's policy views from his tenure as senior Democrat on the Budget Committee.

Ryan's foil in rehearsal was former Solicitor General Ted Olson, a skillful courtroom advocate.

FACT CHECK: Slips in vice president's debate

BIDEN:  "Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly -- we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view.”

RYAN: "There were requests for more security.”

THE FACTS: Ryan is right, judging by testimony from Obama administration officials at the hearing a day earlier.

Charlene R. Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security, told lawmakers she refused requests for more security in Benghazi, saying the department wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate.  "Yes, sir, I said personally I would not support it," she said.

Eric Nordstrom, who was the top security official in Libya earlier this year, testified he was criticized for seeking more security. He said conversations he had with people in Washington led him to believe that it was "abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?"
He said his exasperation reached a point where he told a colleague that "for me the Taliban is on the inside of the building.”

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RYAN: "Look at just the $90 billion in stimulus the vice president was in charge of overseeing -- this $90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups.”

THE FACTS:  Dismissing an entire package of energy stimulus grants and loans as "green pork" ignores the help that was given to people to make their homes more energy efficient, grants to public entities constructing high speed rail lines and tax credits to manufacturers to install equipment fostering cleaner energy.

To be sure, there were notable failed investments, such as $528 million to the politically connected and now-bankrupt solar power company Solyndra.  But Ryan's claim made it sound like every penny went down the drain.

More broadly, economists are nearly universal in saying Obama's $800 billion-plus stimulus passed in early 2009 helped create both public-sector and private-sector jobs, even if they fell short of what sponsors had hoped.  Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimated the stimulus saved or created more than 3 million jobs.

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BIDEN: "We went out and rescued General Motors.”

THE FACTS: Actually, the auto bailout of General Motors and Chrysler began under President George W. Bush. The Obama administration continued and expanded it.

------  RYAN: "And then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors.  This board, by the way, it's 15 people, the president's supposed to appoint them next year. And not one of them even has to have medical training.”

THE FACTS: Ryan is referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, created under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. It has the power to force cuts in Medicare payments to service providers if costs rise above certain levels and Congress fails to act. But it doesn't look like the board will be cutting Medicare "each and every year," as Ryan asserts. Medicare costs are currently rising modestly and the government's own experts project the board's intervention will not be needed until 2018 and 2019 at the earliest -- after Obama leaves office if re-elected to a second term.

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BIDEN, when asked who would pay more taxes in Obama's second term: "People making a million dollars or more.”

THE FACTS: Obama's proposed tax increase reaches farther down the income ladder than millionaires. He wants to roll back Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making over $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.

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RYAN: "We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let's take a look at where we've gone -- come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material -- nuclear material -- to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability.”

THE FACTS: Ryan's claim is misleading. Iran isn't believed to have produced any of the highly enriched uranium needed to produce even one nuclear weapon, let alone five. That point isn't even disputed by Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored the world at the United Nations last month to create a "red line" at enrichment above 20 percent. Iran would have to enrich uranium at much higher levels to produce a weapon. There is intelligence suggesting that Iran has worked on weapon designs, but not that it has developed a delivery system for any potential nuclear warhead.

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BIDEN: "What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare.”

THE FACTS: Contrary to Biden's assertion, not all the money cut from Medicare is going back into the program in some other way. The administration is cutting $716 billion over 10 years in Medicare payments to providers and using some of the money to improve benefits under the program. But most of the money is being used to expand health care coverage outside of Medicare.

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RYAN: "What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they're doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They're infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.”

THE FACTS: The requirement under the health care law that most employers cover birth control free of charge to female employees does not apply to churches, houses of worship, or other institutions directly involved in propagating a religious faith. It does apply to church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and charities that serve the general public.

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BIDEN: "Romney said `No, let Detroit go bankrupt."'
THE FACTS: GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gotten endless grief through the campaign for the headline put on his November 2008 opinion essay that he wrote for The New York Times. But his point was never that he wanted the auto industry to go down the tubes.

Romney opposed using government money to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, instead favoring privately financed bankruptcy restructuring. His prescription seemed improbable. Automakers were hemorrhaging cash and the banking system was in crisis, so private money wasn't available. Without the government money, it's likely both companies would have gone out of business. Romney did propose government-guaranteed private loans for both companies after bankruptcy.

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RYAN: "We should have spoken out right away when the green revolution was up and starting, when the mullahs in Iran were attacking their people. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people.

THE FACTS: Neither President Barack Obama nor anyone else in his administration ever considered the Syrian leader a "reformer." The oft-repeated charge stems from an interview Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave in March 2011 noting that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer." She did not endorse that view. The comment was widely perceived to be a knock at senators such as John Kerry of Massachusetts who maintained cordial relations with Assad in the months leading up to his crackdown on protesters.

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RYAN: "This one tax would actually tax about 53 percent of small-business income.”

BIDEN: "Ninety-seven percent of the small businesses in America pay less -- make less than $250,000.”

THE FACTS: Both are correct, but incomplete, when sizing up the effect on small business of raising taxes for individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000, as Obama wants to do. Republicans say that would hit small-business owners who report business income on their individual income tax; Democrats say the overwhelming majority of small businesses would not be affected.

According to a 2010 report by the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress, about 3 percent of people who report business income would face a tax increase under Obama's plan.  That support's Biden's point.

The same report says those business owners account for about half of all business income. That supports Ryan.

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RYAN: Notes that there have been four rounds of U.N. sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program, three during the Bush administration and one under Obama. "And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the sanctions from hitting the central bank. Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way." He also noted the administration has granted 20 waivers to the sanctions.

THE FACTS: The argument that the administration was watering down or delaying sanctions is misleading. For sanctions to work, they need maximum global agreement and cooperation. Russia watered down U.N. sanctions not only under Obama, but also under Bush. And it's highly unlikely that a Romney administration, particularly led by a candidate who says Russia is the biggest geostrategic threat to the U.S., would be able to get Russia completely on board with what the U.S. wants to -- either in Iran or Syria.

The more absolute U.S. sanctions that Ryan and others have pushed in Congress would have punished U.S. allies, including most countries in Europe as well as Japan and South Korea, along with good friends like India and Singapore -- without the exemptions that were put in place.

The administration has indeed granted 20 waivers, to countries that made significant reductions in Iranian oil imports. And the sanctions are pinching; Iran has been convulsed over the past week with protests over the collapse of its currency, which most people say is a direct result of the sanctions that the U.S. and others have imposed.

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