Vice Presidential Debate: Both sides fiery, claims are disputable

Tonight’s debate on both domestic and foreign policy between incumbent Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, held in Danville, Kentucky, at Centre College, featured both candidates offering direct and passionate argument over key issues like the recent attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, jobs, the war in Afghanistan, the debt crisis, Medicare, taxation and budget plans, and the removal of troops from Afghanistan.

Moderated by Martha Raddatz, the two candidates were pressured to offer up, for Joe Biden, a solid defense of existing and future presidential policies, and for Paul Ryan, solid plans to improve the existing system under a Romney/Ryan administration.

Throughout the debate, Vice Pres. Biden continually emphasized the importance of “the facts” as a weighing mechanism for who would win the debate. So, as clarification, here is a compilation of the major media outlets’ evaluations of the facts that the candidates put forward:

Biden said that, concerning the attack on the U.S. Consulate in Libya, government officials “weren’t told they wanted more security there.”

According to testimony from Obama administration officials, however, requests for increased security in Benghazi, where the Consulate is located, were refused on the grounds that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate, rather than send in U.S. security.

Eric Nordstrom, who earlier this year was the top security official in Libya, said that in his communications with Washington, 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?”

(Washington Post)

Ryan said the unemployment rate, both in Scranton, Pennsylvania, and nationally, is rising.

In fact, the national unemployment rate has fallen from its high of 10% to the most recently reported figure of 8.1%, though unemployment since 2008 has risen 1.2% in Scranton specifically.

Biden said only those making “a million dollars or more” would pay more taxes over the next four years.

But the Obama administration’s proposals actually begin with individuals making more than $200,000 per year and couples making more than $250,000.

(Huffington Post)

Ryan said the Obama administration had labeled dangerous Syrian leader Bashar Assad “a reformer.”

However, neither Obama nor anyone else employed by his administration called Assad a reformer. The claim refers to a statement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made in 2011, criticizing members of Congress for believing Assad was a reformer.

(Huffington Post)

Biden said the Romney/Ryan budget plan would cut embassy security, though in the debate, Ryan criticized the Obama administration for weak security.

Ryan has not made any specific proposal to cut embassy security. However, his broader budget proposal would make cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, which does apply to spending on embassy security, and which, if the cuts were applied evenly, would result in a $300 million cut in embassy spending.

(New York Times)

Ryan said Iran is very close to having the capability to use nuclear weapons, and that the sanctions of the Obama administration are not effectively combating this.

Both Pres. Obama and Gov. Romney are a bit fuzzy on just how close Iran is to creating nuclear weapons. However, according to The New York Times, many experts say Iran does not actually intend to create weaponry, and rather will toe the line so as not to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has signed, since coming close to having nuclear arms may symbolically be as powerful as actually having the weapons on-hand.

Pres. Obama has said consistently that he will not allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. However, he has not said that he will not allow the country to get as close as having nuclear arms “capability,” or having the materials with which to build the weapons. According to one of his aides, “He doesn’t want to agree to a certain amount of uranium, or a certain deadline, that triggers a war,” because the President wants to resolve the conflict peacefully if possible.

Gov. Romney has said reasonably consistently that he would not allow Iran to even acquire weapons capability, though in a recent interview with George Stephanopoulos, he made it sound as though he agreed with Pres. Obama’s position.

As far as the sanctions go, Biden claimed they are “crippling,” and the most effective way of dealing with Iran, whereas Ryan argued that for true security, we must change the Ayatollahs’ (Shiite religious authorities’) minds. Biden fired back with a claim that nothing more than the harsh, current sanctions could be done to deal with Iran, unless Ryan was arguing for the declaration of war.

Oil exports from Iran have dropped significantly—from two million barrels per day to one. This is in contrast to sanctions prior to the Obama administration, which included “travel bans on scientists [and] some bans on sales of certain kinds of equipment”—in other words, much weaker sanctions. Current sanctions limit Iran’s access to U.S. dollars, international loans, and oil delivery. The sanctions could be strengthened, as Gov. Romney claims. But this would require the agreement of the United States’s allies, some of whom depend fairly heavily on Iranian oil.

(USA TodayNew York Times)

Biden said the Obama administration “went out and rescued General Motors.”

But in fact, bailouts for GM began under the Bush administration. The Obama administration continued and expanded the bailouts.

(The Washington Post)

Ryan repeated previous claims that the Obama administration plans to take $716 million from Medicare.

However, these claims have been heavily disputed, since the “cuts” are from money paid to providers, such as hospitals; they aren’t cuts from benefits for Medicare recipients. In addition, Ryan advocated for the same cuts in his own budget plan. Ryan also mentioned the Independent Payment Advisory Board, a panel that generally oversees Medicare, claiming as Pres. Romney did in the first presidential debate that this board dictates treatment for Medicare recipients. However, the board has no jurisdiction over individual treatment, and it is also overseen by Congress and is prohibited from actually providing care to beneficiaries, “shifting costs to retirees, restricting benefits or raising the Medicare eligibility age.” (Associated Press)

Biden repeated a claim that Ryan’s Medicare plan would cost seniors an additional $6400 per year.

However, that figure is an outdated finding by the Congressional Budget Office after a review of Ryan’s previous Medicare plan, which he has since changed, and which has not yet been reviewed by the CBO.

Ryan said that Obama’s stimulus was ineffective, and that its implementation was fraught with waste.

The Obama administration did make hasty claims that it would keep employment below 8%; five months into Pres. Obama’s term, the rate was already at 8.3%. Though the stimulus did not accomplish all that was promised, however, it did create some jobs and have some benefit toward lowering the unemployment rate. The Congressional Budget Office reviewed the effects of the stimulus: “At its peak in the third quarter of 2010, the budget office found, the stimulus saved or created the equivalent of between one million and 5.1 million full-time jobs, lowered the unemployment rate by between 0.4 and two percentage points, and increased the real gross domestic product by between 0.7 percent and 4.1 percent.”

As for fraud and mismanagement, officials documented $11.1 million of $276 billion lost to fraud, and reported that the inspectors general had 1900 investigations in progress, 598 of which had resulted in convictions and judgments. “For a program with so much money in the pipeline,” wrote Michael Wood, executive director of the Recovery Board, which oversaw the stimulus, “the fraud numbers are surprisingly low.”

(The New York Times)

Biden said Romney disagreed with the Obama administration’s previously planned and executed plan to remove all troops from Iraq by 2011.

However, Romney was alluding to a plan the Obama administration had actually originally had, which was to leave some troops behind, provided they could be protected under a new “status of forces agreement” that would give them legal protections. The plan fell apart after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki came to the decision that it would be impossible to convince the Iraqi Parliament to pass such legislation.

(USA Today)

Biden said a Romney/Ryan plan would cut early childhood education for 200,000 children.

It is true that Republican spending cuts would significantly impact education, but there are no figures as to which programs would be impacted, because the Romney/Ryan plan is not yet specific. Mr. Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education, argued that those spending cuts may have harsh impacts. According to The New York Times, Mr. Duncan said that “the Ryan budget could reduce spending on education for low-income, minority, rural and tribal children by $2.7 billion in 2014. He said that could affect 9,000 schools serving more than 3.8 million students, and jeopardize the jobs of as up to 38,000 teachers and aides. He said that aid to help students with disabilities could face $2.2 billion in cuts, which he said would translate to the loss of nearly 30,000 special education teachers, aides and other staff. And he said that some 200,000 children could lose access to Head Start.”



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