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Fact Check: The Vice Presidential Debate Between Biden and Ryan Fact Check: The Vice Presidential Debate Between Biden and Ryan

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Politics / CAMPAIGN 2012

Fact Check: The Vice Presidential Debate Between Biden and Ryan

Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, right, listens as Vice President Joe Biden speaks during the vice presidential debate at Centre College, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012, in Danville, Ky.(AP Photo/Eric Gay)

October 11, 2012

The vice presidential debate between Joe Biden and Paul Ryan on Thursday night in Danville, Ky., covered a wide range of domestic and international issues. Here is a look at some of their statements and how firmly they are grounded in fact.

Biden on increasing Medicare costs:

Biden repeatedly told voters Ryan’s first budget blueprint would end up costing seniors an additional $6,400. That figure bends the truth, at best.

 

It comes from a Congressional Budget Office analysis of Ryan’s first budget plan, which would convert Medicare into a voucher program. It is not a number that CBO’s economists offered themselves. Instead, it is an interpretation of CBO’s analysis. Liberal thinkers took CBO’s first estimates of Ryan’s Medicare plan and used simple subtraction to arrive at the $6,400 figure—taking the difference between what seniors would have to pay for the estimated cost of a private Medicare plan in 2022 and what traditional Medicare would cost seniors that same year.

Ryan’s second budget plan and the Medicare plan from Romney keeps the traditional federal health program for the elderly as an option for seniors, a significant shift from the first Ryan budget that the $6,400 figure is based on.

Ryan on his Medicare plan getting bipartisan support:

Ryan said his Medicare plan had bipartisan support from a “Democrat from Oregon.” That Democrat, Sen. Ron Wyden, has disavowed any link to Ryan’s proposals. “I did not ‘co-lead a piece of legislation,’ ” Wyden said in August, according to the Oregonian. “I wrote a policy paper on options for Medicare. Several months after the paper came out, I spoke and voted against the Medicare provisions in the Ryan budget.”

Biden on attack in Libya:

When pressed on the Obama administration’s response to the deadly attack in Libya that killed ambassador Chris Stevens and three other American personnel last month, Biden pointed to the ongoing investigation into whether there were any security lapses. Biden added: “We did not know they wanted more security” in Benghazi.

One day earlier, however, senior State Department officials told a House committee they turned down requests from the U.S. embassy in Libya to send more American military personnel to guard the diplomatic facilities. However, Charlene Lamb, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for international programs in the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, insisted that the U.S. had the correct number of security assets in Benghazi for the threat level on the night of the September 11 attack and that the compound was simply overrun by dozens of heavily armed men. “We had the correct number of assets in Benghazi at the time of 9/11," Lamb told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Wednesday. 

While Biden’s “we” was ambiguous—one part of the U.S. government, the State Department, apparently did know that the Libya post had requested more security.

Biden's statement that Ryan voted to cut embassy security funding by $300 million:

Ryan’s budget proposals would have cut non-defense discretionary spending by 19 percent by 2014. Obama campaign officials argued that that would amount to a nearly $300 million cut to embassy security, according to The Hill. Ryan’s proposal didn’t specify exactly where the 19 percent cuts would come from, giving him deniability, but embassy security was not specifically excluded from the across-the-board cuts.

Ryan on Medicare cuts in health reform law:

Ryan attacked Democrats’ health reform law for cutting $716 billion from Medicare to expand health insurance coverage to an estimated 30 million people.

That fact is true. The health reform law reduces the rate at which payments to Medicare hospitals and some insurance companies increase. The savings added eight years to the solvency of the Medicare trust fund, and some of the money has been used to help seniors pay for prescription drugs and preventive services, like annual check-ups at the doctor.

But Ryan neglects to mention that both of his budget blueprints kept those Medicare cuts in place. He needed the $716 billion in savings to reduce the deficit as quickly as his Republican colleagues demanded it.

Biden on Bush-era tax cuts:

Biden repeated his assertion that Ryan and Romney favor extending Bush-era tax cuts that will provide $500 billion to 120,000 wealthy families. PolitiFact.com rated that “mostly true” based on four experts the site interviewed. “We couldn’t find a definitive study confirming Biden’s figure, but four sources said it’s in that range. His math, and the description of the Bush tax-cut package, needs some clarification,” PolitiFact concluded.

Ryan on the size of the Navy inviting weakness:

Ryan, decrying the possibility of additional cuts to the defense budget, said the Navy will be the smallest it has been since before World War I. “This invites weakness,” Ryan said.

This is similar to a line Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney took during a foreign policy speech at the Virginia Military Institute earlier this week, insisting he wanted to grow the Navy by building 15 ships a year because the U.S. fleet is equivalent to what it was in 1916. CNN fact-checked Romney’s claims from this week and found them “basically pointless”--because the number of ships generally fluctuates over time, and lower numbers do not necessarily mean a weaker Navy or military. “As experts point out, lower numbers in the fleet does not mean a weaker Navy or military,” CNN reports. “Because of the technological advantage of current ships, you can leverage these ships more now than ever before. They can do more things, carry more sailors and go more places easily than the U.S. fleet in, say, 1916.”

Ryan on administration's credibility on Iran sanctions:

Ryan accused the Obama administration of sending mixed signals when it comes to Washington’s commitment to derailing Iran’s nuclear program, insisting the Democrats have no credibility on this issue. “The administration watered down sanctions,” Ryan said.

However, the Obama administration has already put in place the toughest sanctions ever imposed on the Iranian government, and even Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad admitted this summer they are the “strongest yet.” Iranian currency fell to a record low, reportedly losing 80 percent of its value since the end of last year, in part due to recent U.S. punitive measures and a European Union oil embargo. Obama also signed into law a raft of tough new sanctions that would penalize any foreign financial institution that does business with the Central Bank of Iran. Ryan is right to point out that Congress initially led the effort on those sanctions--but the Obama administration is also right to claim that the most stringent measures to date have been imposed and implemented under its watch.  

Biden on stimulus spending:

Biden said investigations found no waste or low waste and “not one single piece of evidence” of cronyism and abuse in stimulus spending. “Waste” is largely subjective. A report by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and John McCain, R-Ariz., in 2010 highlighted 100 “wasteful” projects to research things like how cocaine affects monkeys and a study of exotic ants. Recipients of such funds said the research had important implications for humans, but critics said the money should have been used to create more jobs. As for abuse, Biden himself said in 2010 that about $3 million in stimulus money had been found to involve fraud. When the vice president made that statement in 2010, there had been at least 22 convictions and judgments for stimulus fraud, according to USA Today.

Ryan on Obama Medicare board:

Ryan said the health reform law establishes a board with the responsibility to cut Medicare “each and every year.” That statement is partly true.

The law does establish an independent executive branch board that is tasked with keeping Medicare within a specific spending target: gross domestic product plus 1 percent by 2020. The board, which would be appointed by the president and approved by the Senate, is explicitly restricted from directly cutting Medicare benefits. In other words, they must cut hospital, doctor, and nursing-home payment rates, and they are not allowed to restrict what kinds of treatments those providers can offer to treat seniors.

They are not necessarily instructed to cut Medicare every year--if the program stays within spending targets, then the board is not required to cut.

Biden on middle-class tax cuts:

Biden called on the GOP to “get out of the way” and stop blocking tax relief for the middle class. This is misleading. Biden was referring to the fact that Republicans have protested decoupling the Bush-era tax cuts for upper- and middle-income taxpayers. House Republicans this summer extended the Bush cuts for all earners, while Senate Democrats passed a separate bill extending the cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers but allowing the high-income cuts to sunset. The cuts are currently set to expire in January.

Republicans are also quick to note that elements of Obama’s health care law amount to tax increases on the middle class, from excise taxes on items like cigarettes and tanning booths to the penalty for failing to purchase health insurance. The Congressional Budget Office, in fact, found that 600,000 people with incomes under the federal poverty level ($15,130 for a family of two) will have to pay a penalty because they don’t have health insurance. The health reform law, however, exempts those people for whom the lowest cost option on the health insurance exchanges exceeds 8 percent of their income.

Biden on intervention in Libya vs. Syria:

Vice President Joe Biden misspoke as he explained why Washington launched a military operation to help Libyans fighting Muammar el-Qaddafi but will not go into Syria as the uprising continues against Bashar al-Assad, according to Julian Barnes of The Wall Street Journal. “[Biden] said Syria was "geographically" five times larger than Libya. Libya, at 1.7 million square miles, is much larger than Syria, 185,180 square miles. But Syria, with 20 million people, has a far larger population than Libya, with 6 million people,” Barnes writes.

Biden and Ryan on contraception:

Ryan attacked a health reform law policy that requires employers to offer insurance that covers contraception, among other health services for women, including religious charities, hospitals, and universities. (Religious groups that primarily employ people of their own faith are exempt.)

Biden objected, saying that religious groups, particularly Catholic hospitals and universities, would not have to “refer for contraception,” “pay for contraception,” and “none has to be a vehicle for contraception.”

His statement is partly true. The Obama administration rolled out what they called a compromise for the contraception rule after outrage from religious groups and Republicans. The compromise measure requires health insurance companies to cover all contraception costs if employers have a religious objection. That has created a problem for religious groups that self-insure—in other words, they hire an insurance company to administer their plans, but end up paying for all of the health care out of their own pockets.

Ryan said the contraception rule is an attack on first amendment rights. Democrats argue that the federal contraception rule mirrors similar regulations on the state level. That argument is up for interpretation in the nation’s courts now, as major Catholic organizations sue the federal government over the rule.

Ryan on health insurance coverage:

Ryan claimed the health reform law would cause 20 million Americans to lose their health insurance. That statement is not true, according to Politifact.com. The figure is one of several numbers from a CBO report that includes four separate estimates on exactly how many people will lose the specific health insurance plans they have now, thanks to the health reform law. Overall, the law is expected to expand insurance coverage to an additional 30 million people who are currently uninsured.

Ryan also said 7.4 million seniors would lose their health insurance plans. Ryan was talking about seniors on Medicare Advantage, the private Medicare plans offered through the federal government. While the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services independent actuary has said millions of seniors will eventually lose their current Medicare Advantage plans, it is wrong to imply that they won’t have any insurance at all. Those seniors would still have Medicare.

Ryan on defense cuts:

Ryan came out strongly against the prospect of $1 trillion dollars in cuts to the defense budget. Ryan has for weeks traversed defense-heavy swing states insisting that President Obama wants these cuts that could cost tens of thousands of jobs in each state. “We're saying don’t cut the military by a trillion dollars--not increase it by a trillion dollars,” Ryan said. But there are two problems with these statements.

First, neither Republicans nor Democrats want $1 trillion in defense cuts. The military is facing roughly $500 billion in cuts over the next decade as part of the debt deal both parties agreed to last August, which the Pentagon said it can responsibly enact. The Pentagon won’t see another $500 billion in cuts unless Congress fails to reach a compromise to reduce the deficit by $1.2 trillion—and President Obama and his top military leaders have denounced these looming extra half-trillion dollars in defense cuts under sequestration as bad policy.

Second, Ryan’s indication that the GOP ticket’s policies would not increase the military’s budget by a trillion dollars appears incorrect. Romney has said he would reverse the “Obama-era” defense cuts with a goal of setting core defense spending at a floor of 4 percent of GDP—which compared to the military’s current budget would actually incur $2.1 trillion in additional spending over the next decade, according to an analysis reported by CNNMoney.

The Closing Remarks from the Vice Presidential Debate

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