In a blur of facts, VP debate strained the truth

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 11, 2012 

— In their first and only debate, Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan verbally wrestled over Medicare, Social Security and abortion. But sometimes it was the truth that got tackled.

Like President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney did in their first debate, Biden and Ryan made statements or observations that weren’t entirely factual. Here’s a look at some of what was said:

AUTO BAILOUT

Biden repeated a line oft-used by Obama and Democratic surrogates that Romney said let Detroit’s automobile industry should go bankrupt. The vice president is only half-right. Romney, whose father George was an auto company executive and governor of Michigan, said he’d preferred to let the auto industry go through bankruptcy reorganization on its own, rather than with taxpayer help and government direction. Whether it was by former President George W. Bush or Obama, it was the wrong way to go,” he said.

He wrote an op-ed for the New York Times in 2008, headlined, “Let Detroit Go Bankrupt.” He said if the auto companies get a bailout, "you can kiss the American automotive industry goodbye. It won’t go overnight, but its demise will be virtually guaranteed.”

FOREIGN APOLOGIES

Ryan criticized the Obama administration for apologizing the night that four Americans were killed in Libya. The U.S. embassy in Cairo released a statement on Sept. 11 condemning a video that negatively portrayal the Prophet Muhammad. Hours later, after protesters stormed the embassy, staff tweeted it stood by its statement, though it was later deleted from its account. That night in Benghazi, Libya, four American diplomats were killed, including Ambassador Chris Stevens, but news of the deaths was not announced until the next morning. The statement was not an "apology’’ and it came before the deaths in Libya so it was not in response to the unrest in Cairo or Benghazi. But the White House immediately distanced itself from the embassy statement, saying Washington did not approve of the statement and it did not reflect the views of the U.S. government.

Asked whether the United States should have apologized for U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses, Ryan responded “Oh gosh, yes” and added that “what we should not be apologizing for are standing up for our values.” Ryan was referring to an regularly repeated line by the Romney campaign that Obama traveled overseas shortly after becoming president and apologized for American behavior. Obama made several overseas speeches early in his presidency, but he never issued a formal apology in any of those speeches.

LIBYA

Biden’s insistence that the Obama administration was never told that diplomats wanted more security at the U.S. consulate in Benghazi contradicts testimony in this week’s congressional hearing on the issue that focused on apparent denials of requests for expanded security from diplomatic personnel. Still, a diplomatic security chief testified, the attack was so severe that even extra security probably couldn’t have repelled it.

DEFENSE SPENDING

Ryan incorrectly stated that if defense cuts mandated by as part of a bipartisan deal go through the U.S. Navy will be at its smallest since World War I. The actual low, according to a U.S. Navy website, came in 2007, when the Navy ship total fell to 278. Several times in the past decade, the Navy has had fewer than the current 285 ships. Ryan may have been referring to a trend that began in 1989 that has seen the number of Navy ships steadily drop from 592. The Navy’s plan for ship building over the next 30 years is based on building towards a size of about 300 ships.

IRAN

Ryan claimed that when Obama was elected Iran had enough nuclear material to make one bomb. Now, he said, Iran has enough for five. “They’re racing toward a nuclear weapon,” he said.

No evidence exists to show that Iran has uranium enriched to 90 percent, which is necessary for a nuclear weapon. Iran does have highly enriched uranium, between 20 and 27 percent, according to International Atomic Energy Agency.

SYRIA

In challenging Ryan to a way to quell the violence in Syria, Biden suggested the next step was putting “American boots on the ground.” But no one has proposed sending ground troops to Syria. The Syrian opposition has beseeched the U.S. and other Western powers for measures such as the imposition of a no-fly zone, the establishment of buffer zones along the borders and the provision of weapons to Syrian rebels. Both camps have backed the idea of U.S.-allied Arab nations arming the Syrian rebels fighting to unseat President Bashar Assad. However, recent news reports suggest that the Obama administration was cautioning against the supplying of shoulder-fired missiles and other heavy weapons that could boost the rebel side of Syria’s bloody stalemate.

MEDICARE

Ryan repeated the claim that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, would take $716 million from Medicare, turning it into a "piggybank" for the health overhaul law. The federal healthcare law cuts projected Medicare spending by $716 billion from 2013 to 2022. The funding cuts wouldn’t affect services for seniors because they come mainly from lower payments to hospitals and other providers, higher premiums for affluent beneficiaries and lower payments to Medicare Advantage plans.

But some experts have questioned whether the cuts would limit the availability of services for beneficiaries in the future and lead to a shortage of care providers like the Medicaid program is currently experiencing. If that happens, Congress would have to increase the payments to providers, which could lead to higher Medicare costs than the current law now projects.

In order to slow Medicare spending, Romney would replace the program’s current delivery system with a flat payment to beneficiaries known as a “voucher” or “premium support” payment, which they could use to buy private insurance or traditional Medicare coverage. If their medical costs exceed the amount of their voucher, seniors would have to pay the difference regardless of whether they’ve chosen private insurance or traditional Medicare. Critics say insurers would end up recruiting younger, healthier seniors under the new system, leaving traditional Medicare with older, sicker people who are more costly to care for.

Romney also wants to repeal the healthcare law. The Congressional Budget Office said repealing the measure would increase the deficit by $119 billion and cause Medicare’s Hospital Insurance Trust Fund to become insolvent eight years earlier – in 2016 instead of 2024. Repealing the law would bring about some Medicare savings, most notably by eliminating the law’s “doughnut hole” prescription drug coverage and by eliminating a range of free preventative care and screenings.

Ryan also said the healthcare’s 15-member Independent Payment Advisory Board would be "in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors." Actually, the panel would submit recommendations to Congress for cutting Medicare costs if they exceed a targeted growth rate. The recommendations become law if Congress fails to pass a similar measure that saves the same amount.

SOCIAL SECURITY

Ryan said Social Security and Medicare were going bankrupt. “These are indisputable facts,” he said. While most economists think that left unchanged, Medicare threatens to swamp all other government spending. Social Security, however, is nowhere near going bankrupt and can easily be fixed with changes such as raising the retirement age to 70, raising the caps on how much income is subjected to payroll taxes dedicated to Social Security and changing how benefits are indexed to account for inflation and wage growth.

ABORTION

Biden questioned whether Ryan had changed his view on abortion over time. Ryan, a conservative Catholic, has tried to scale back access to abortions or end it altogether. He previously said he would only allow abortion in cases when the life of the mother is at risk. But when he became Romney’s running mate, he said he was "comfortable" with the former governor’s view. Romney supports abortion rights in the case of rape and incest.

Obama and Biden supports abortion rights. Romney previously supported abortion rights, but now says states should make those decisions.

TAXES

Biden repeated charges made earlier by Obama that the Romney-Ryan tax plan would add almost $5 trillion over 10 years to the deficit. While correct, Biden neglected to say that the report he cited by the non-partisan Tax Policy Center stressed that the $5 trillion number did not include the offsetting revenue gains from ending or scaling back popular tax deductions. The Romney-Ryan campaign has not said what deductions it would end or save.

Ryan said that his ticket could preserve Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, and then cut them by an additional 20 percent. These lost tax revenues would be offset by ending or scaling back a number of popular tax deductions. Ryan said the ticket would deny those loopholes and deductions to higher-income taxpayers. That goes beyond what Romney has said. Romney has advocated having the rich get less of a deduction, but has not said the wealthy would be denied deductions for mortgage interest, state taxes and the like.

Hannah Allam, Matt Schofield, Tony Pugh and Kevin G. Hall contributed.

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