Paul Ryan at the vice-presidential debate: How the GOP VP nominee did in his first national debate versus Vice President Biden

October 12, 2012

Paul Ryan debated Vice President Biden last night in Danville, Ky., in a matchup that The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Dan Balz report was without a clear winner but full of policy discussions on subjects like foreign policy, taxes, Medicare and abortion:

In sharp contrast to last week’s exchange between President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney, the vice-presidential candidates clashed repeatedly during their 90-minute encounter. They differed over how to create jobs, whose taxes should and should not be cut or increased, how best to ensure the solvency of Medicare and Social Security, and whether the Obama administration’s foreign policy in the Middle East and Afghanistan is working.

The other contrast with the presidential debate was the absence of a clear winner. Romney was universally judged to have bested Obama in Denver, but Biden and Ryan each made their points with force and conviction. With the race tighter than it was two weeks ago, Thursday’s debate is not likely to result in a significant shift toward either Obama or Romney but is likely to raise the stakes when the two meet next week for their second forum.

Biden attacked Romney for his recent characterization of the 47 percent of Americans who pay no federal income taxes as people who consider themselves victims, arguing that it showed an insensitivity to the kinds of people he grew up with in Pennsylvania. … But Ryan argued that the administration’s policies have failed many of those same people. He noted that the unemployment rate in Biden’s home town of Scranton, Pa., is higher today than it was when Obama entered office.

“Look, did they come in and inherit a tough situation? Absolutely,” Ryan said. “But we’re going in the wrong direction. Look at where we are. The economy is barely limping along. It’s growing at 1.3 percent. That’s slower than it grew last year, and last year was slower than the year before. Job growth in September was slower than it was in August, and August was slower than it was in July.”

Biden said the GOP Medicare plan, which would provide seniors a fixed amount of money to either buy into the government program or obtain private health insurance, amounted to a “voucher program” that he said would raise costs for future seniors. The vice president implored voters watching at home to make a gut decision about which party they trust to protect their Medicare benefits.

“Folks, follow your instincts on this one,” Biden said. Later, he added, “To cut the benefits for people without taking other action you could do to make it work is absolutely the wrong way. Look, these guys haven’t been big on Medicare from the beginning. ... And they’ve always been about Social Security, as little as you can do. Look, folks, use your common sense. Who do you trust on this? A man who introduced a bill that would raise it $6,400 a year, knowing it and passing it, and Romney saying he’d sign it? Or me and the president?”

Ryan countered by charging that the Obama administration had been “caught with their hands in the cookie jar” by cutting $716 billion in Medicare funding in Obama’s health-care law. And Ryan said the Democrats do not have a “credible solution” that would stabilize the costly entitlement program for the future.

The foreign policy sections of the debate included a discussion of whether there had been an intelligence failure in Libya before four Americans were killed there and whether the administration had an effective policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

Ryan charged that the administration had resisted tougher sanctions against Iran and had to be prodded by Congress to push for them. Biden countered by saying that they are “the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions” and scoffed that the Republicans in Congress could have brought along Russia and others to agree to the terms.

Noting the historic significance of two Catholic candidates sharing the debate stage, Raddatz asked each man about the role their religion plays in their policy views on abortion.

Ryan said he opposes abortion in part because of his Catholic faith, but also because of “reason and science.” He said a Romney administration would oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother. “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith,” Ryan said.

The Fix’s Aaron Blake wrote that while neither side can walk away claiming victory, both camps are probably okay with that:

The fact is that, going into the debate, each side had much more to lose than to gain in a vice presidential debate that rarely has much effect. And by the end of the night, the consensus was that both men — and, by extension, both campaigns — emerged about the same, with their bases happy and no major strikes against them.

….

* Why Ryan could have lost: This was a big stage for a congressman from Wisconsin (or any state!). Yes, Ryan has been a national figure by virtue of his House budget committee chairmanship, but debating a sitting vice president is a whole different ballgame. Ryan has also been criticized for the veracity of some of his claims — something that was a huge storyline after his speech at the Republican National Convention.

* Why Ryan didn’t lose: Ryan defined the term “steady.” He didn’t get flustered by Biden’s constant interjections, continuing to make his points and not allowing himself to be cut off. He held his own on foreign policy (which was a big portion of the debate) even as he was debating a man with much more experience in that field. Even when Biden thought he had Ryan pinned when it came to Ryan’s assertions about the troop situation in eastern Afghanistan, Ryan held strong and didn’t allow it to mushroom into something bigger. He also faced a potentially troubling moment at the end of the debate when the topic turned to abortion. Biden hit him for opposing abortion even in the case of rape and incest — a position shared by a small minority of Americans — but Ryan defused it by sticking to the company line that Mitt Romney’s positions are the ones that matter, and Romney supports those exceptions. Ryan may not have created many memorable moments in the debate, but for a Romney campaign that was already feeling better about its chances going into the debate, that’s probably a good thing.

The debate was full of “feisty words and fishy facts” from both candidates, The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler writes. Below are some statements from Ryan. Follow this link for more from Biden.

“Look at all the string of broken promises. If you like your health-care plan, you can keep it. Try telling that to the 20 million people who are projected to lose their health insurance if Obamacare goes through.”

— Ryan

Ryan is referring to a recent Congressional Budget Office study that gave several scenarios for what could happen to employer-based coverage once the law was implemented. The most positive scenario has 3 million people being added to employer coverage, while “on balance, the number of people obtaining coverage through their employer would be about 3 million lower in 2019 under the legislation than under prior law,” the CBO concludes.

The worst-case scenario was 20 million people, which is where Ryan got his number. It’s worth noting that the baseline scenario — 3 million fewer people — represents just 2 percent of the people who now get insurance through their employers.

Usually, when Republicans cite this figure, they say “up to 20 million,” but Ryan did not even bother with that modifier, making his claim especially alarmist.

The CBO cautions that there is a “tremendous amount of uncertainty” about how employers and employees will respond to the legislation. “One piece of evidence that may be relevant is the experience in Massachusetts, where employment-based health insurance coverage appeared to increase after that state’s reforms,” the CBO noted. Mitt Romney, as governor, ushered in health-care legislation that served as a model for Obama’s health plan

“He’ll keep saying this $5 trillion plan, I suppose. It’s been discredited by six other studies. … Six studies have guaranteed — six studies have verified that this math adds up.”

— Ryan

Romney would cut tax rates by 20 percent and eliminate the estate tax, the alternative minimum tax and reduce the corporate tax, which analysts say will reduce revenue by $5 trillion over 10 years. But Romney also has said he will make his plan “revenue neutral” by eliminating tax loopholes and deductions, much as Ronald Reagan did when he passed a tax reform in 1986.

Yet Romney has not provided many details about which deductions he would eliminate. He has suggested the home mortgage deduction, charitable contributions and employer-paid health insurance might be protected; he has also indicated he is thinking of some sort of cap on the amount of deductions a taxpayer could claim.

Moreover, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center has analyzed the specifics of Romney’s plan thus far released and concluded that the numbers aren’t there to make it revenue neutral.

In the debate, Ryan twice countered that “six other studies” have found that not to be the case, but those studies actually do not provide much evidence that Romney’s proposal — as sketchy as it is — would be revenue neutral without making unrealistic assumptions or changing the parameters of Romney’s tax cut. (Some are not even studies but more like opinion articles.) So Ryan is wrong to assert the studies have “verified that this math adds up.”

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