In his debate with Paul Ryan Thursday night, Vice President Joe Biden took the side of the 47% that Mitt Romney said he doesn’t “worry” about, and of the Americans Ryan has called “moochers.”
“These people are my mom and dad – the people I grew up with, my neighbors,” Biden declared. “They pay more tax than Gov. Romney in his federal income tax. They are elderly people who in fact are living off of Social Security. They are veterans and people fighting in Afghanistan right now.”
The vice president went on the offensive, challenging Ryan and Romney’s positions (and lies) at every turn. At least half of the debate focused on foreign policy, one of Biden’s areas of expertise. Many pundits said Ryan was out of his league in that arena. The Republican ticket is trying to score political points on the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans in Libya, claiming the administration’s policies are “unravelling.”
Ryan offered nothing in its place except more saber-rattling, hinting at a possible war with Iran, or sending troops to Syria and keeping Americans on the front lines in Afghanistan.
But it is economic and domestic issues that top voters’ concerns in poll after poll. Here Biden drew a sharp line contrasting the Obama administration’s pro-middle-class policies with the Romney-Ryan 1% “trickle down” agenda.
Instead of pledging to Grover Norquist to preserve tax cuts for the wealthiest, Republicans should be signing a pledge to the middle class to “level the playing field,” and not have “a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street,” Biden said.
“They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut for the rich that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts” to a tiny number of rich families, he said. The Republicans are “holding hostage the middle-class tax cut … unless we give them the tax cut for the super wealthy.”
Biden slammed Republicans for holding up passage of President Obama’s jobs bill which would create millions of good-paying construction and infrastructure jobs. And he exposed Ryan for his hypocritical attacks on the president’s stimulus program.
“It’s about time,” Biden said, pointing to Ryan, “that they take some responsibility here.”
Exposing Ryan’s hypocrisy on the stimulus, Biden said, “He sent me two letters asking for stimulus money in his own state of Wisconsin. I love that. I love that.”
Laughing, he said, “The stimulus is such a bad program and he [Ryan] writes a letter saying the reason he needs the stimulus is that it will create growth and jobs. Those were his words.”
On a less humorous note, the 50 million watching the debate last night got a frightening glimpse of what life would be like for workers in a future designed by the Romney-Ryan ticket.
That future, the debate made clear, would be one in which seniors are required to toil until they are 70 before they could collect on what will have become a woefully inadequate Social Security – inadequate because it will be a privatized system with most of its funding controlled by the gamblers on Wall Street.
People would have to wait at least two years longer, until they are 67, to get Medicare’s comprehensive health care. But it won’t be health care like Medicare recipients get today. Instead, in that Romney-Ryan future seniors will get a “premium support” – in other words a voucher – and search for an insurance company willing to cover the sick and old. And with a likely higher price, seniors will have to pick up the tab for what the voucher doesn’t cover.
In that future, while the majority of seniors get vouchers, millionaires and billionaires will continue to receive massive tax cuts paid for by working people.
Besides his call to privatize Social Security, Ryan also revealed that they would raise the retirement age to 70 and slash ocial Security benefits for middle-income workers using a “progressive price index formula change,” code for cutting benefits.
According to the Social Security chief actuary, a medium income earner, someone who made $43,000 in 2010, would see substantial benefit cuts under Romney’s plan. For a person retiring in 2030, the cut is $2,396. For a person retiring in 2050, the cut is $4,730.
“Stop obstructing what has to be done to grow the economy, stop blocking the American Jobs Act, stop blocking foreclosure relief,” Biden demanded in Thursday night’s debate. “We will not turn Medicare into a privatized voucher system, leaving seniors at the mercy of private insurance companies,” he declared.
Biden destroyed Ryan’s repeated claim, echoing Romney, that President Obama is taking $716 billion out of Medicare to pay for Obamacare.
The vice president explained clearly how Obama’s health reform cuts wasteful subsidies to private insurers and excessive payments to providers – not cuts to Medicare benefits or to beneficiaries.
Responding to moderator Martha Raddatz’s question about the candidates’ religious beliefs and abortion, Ryan indicated women’s reproductive rights would face a grim future under their administration.
By contrast Biden gave a powerful defense of separation of church and state and women’s right to choose when to bear a child. Saying he personally accepted his church’s teaching on abortion, Biden said “I will not impose that on equally devout Christians, Muslims and Jews, I just refuse to impose that on others – unlike my friend here.”
Biden also cited “Catholic social doctrine, which talks about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.”
After the debate a CBS snap poll showed Biden beating Ryan 50 to 31 among independents. Other polls were more evenly divided.
Biden’s spirited performance showed the Obama-Biden ticket is determined to fight hard to prevent a Romney-Ryan White House takeover.
Susan Webb and Teresa Albano contributed to this article. Photo via Organizing for America.