It was a show of true vice presidential attack dog roles.
In Thursday’s vice presidential debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., Vice President Joe Biden and Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan came with their claws out, impassioned, and ready for a fight to the finish – a far different scene from the presidential debate last week in which President Obama was roundly criticized for his less-than-stellar performance, and for which Republican challenger Mitt Romney enjoyed a surge in the national polls.
A powerful four-letter word: J-O-B-S
Biden pledged the Obama administration would get the unemployment rate below 6% if given another four years in office. Though he didn’t give a timeline, he cited successes for the administration including government aid to General Motors – saving thousands of jobs, and the housing industry. Biden also took shots at the Republican nominee for president, brining Romney’s 47% comment into play, saying he’s “fed up” with the notion that the super wealthy need additional tax cuts.
Ryan, in his rebuttal, agreed the Obama administration came into office under very difficult economic circumstances, but argued the nation is still heading in the wrong direction. Often bringing in anecdotal evidence, he reiterated his running mate’s five-step plan for job creation, which includes energy independence, new trade agreements and balancing the nation’s budget.
Biden also argued that the Obama administration’s middle class tax cuts and jobs bill, if Republicans “get out of the way,” will create millions of jobs within the next four years. Ryan said that while the Obama administration inherited a challenging economy, the administration still had the support of a one-party Congress and yet wasn’t able to meet all of its election-year promises.
Despite the back-and-forth arguments about the state of the economy and lack of job creation over the last four years, neither candidate offered specifics about how either administration would spur job creation and get the economy back to pre-crisis levels.
Debt is a strong mountain to move
The candidates also sparred on tax policies. Biden said flatly that taxes will remain the same for middle and low income families, who were “crushed by the Great Recession” with an extension of Bush-era middle class tax cuts; meanwhile rates for wealthier Americans will increase.
Ryan -- a self-proclaimed "budget man" and architect of the Republican budget plan from his days as House Budget Committee chairman -- took a firm stance, reiterating his running mate’s approach to tackling the nation’s massive and mounting federal debt and deficit. He contested those millionaires and billionaires and increasing taxes on small businesses wouldn’t come close to covering the increasing levels of government spending.
Moderator Martha Raddatz, pressed Ryan on his ticket's tax plan, asking for specifics on the proposed 20% across-the-board tax cuts. Ryan responded by saying six studies confirmed his running mate’s lowered rates and reduced loopholes will go a long way toward helping spur economic growth in the United States. To much argument from Biden, Ryan said the way to reduce the long-term deficit is to work with Congress in a bipartisan way.
The looming fiscal cliff came into play during a hot discussion on defense spending. While both candidates agreed no one wants to see sequestration go into effect, they disagreed about how much of the nation’s budget should focus on defense. Ryan concluded that rather than adding $1 trillion to defense spending, a Romney administration simply wouldn’t cut defense spending. Vice President Biden argued the Obama administration wouldn’t go into defense policy with an exact plan, opting instead to listen to generals on the ground to determine what’s best for the nation.
How about entitlements?
The debate about entitlements centered on seniors, with personal shots coming often from both candidates.
Ryan’s argument focused on math and budget facts. He took a stab at the president’s health care plan saying it takes money away from seniors not only through Medicare, but also through the loss of social security when it goes bankrupt if reforms are not enacted. Still, Biden contended the administration saved millions of dollars in Medicare by cutting dollars going to insurance companies. He ensured seniors would not be negatively affected by the president’s health care plan, but instead benefit because of vouchers, increased dollars to prescription drug plans. Biden asked the American people who they’d rather trust: the American Medical Association or the possible Romney Administration.
What about the gaffes?
It’s no secret Biden is gaffe-prone, often giving advantage to the Romney/Ryan ticket with his missteps. Many speculate that’s the reason he wasn’t seen on the ground in the days leading up to the debate.
Ryan addressed the fact directly saying, “The president very well knows the words don’t always come out of your mouth the right way.” To which, in the midst of audience laughter, Biden responded, “But I mean what I say.”
Despite the mention of gaffes, both men maintained their party’s stances on the foreign and domestic policy.
Post-debate poll leaders
The economy, jobs, and the national debt weren’t the only major points of discussion on Thursday night. Front and center was the tragedy of the murder of Christopher Stevens, U.S. Ambassador to Libya and three other Americans in Benghazi. Both candidates reiterated stances heard on the campaign trail: Ryan criticized the Obama administration for an “unraveling” of lies involved with the tragedy, saying there should have been an increase in security for those U.S. officials living in Libya. Biden immediately shot back that Ryan reduced embassy security within his budget by millions below the administration’s request. The two continued a back-and-forth on whether the administration did the right thing before and after the attack.
Other topics included the possibility of a nuclear Iran – a subject on which Vice President Biden spent a lot of time playing defense to Ryan’s charges that the administration isn’t taking a tough enough stance with sanctions.
Historically, vice presidential debates have done little to change public opinion about the person running at the top of the ticket. And in keeping with history, Professor Spencer Kimball of Emerson College said this debate likely won’t be a game changer, but did bring to light important points for the American public.
“This debate was symbolic of what is wrong with Washington – shouting over one another, mostly Biden, rarely finding agreement on any issue.,” he said. “Biden won the debate based on expectations; however Ryan showed himself competent and capable – Biden may have overdone his ‘friend’ (statements), and facial reactions and boomerang supporters from an otherwise strong performance.”
Kimball said Ryan was too laid back and vague about his and his running mate’s policies.
“Ryan could have shown Biden to be out of touch when he asked about Biden’s hometown of Scranton, PA and the unemployment rate now and when (the Obama administration) came into office, but instead, (he) simply gave him the answer.”
That said, he argues Biden didn’t give a picture perfect performance either, criticizing the vice president's overconfidence and negative demeanor toward his opponent. Despite that, Kimball said Biden stopped the “bleeding from last week’s debate” and though it won’t turn Romney’s momentum around completely, he said it will help slow it.
Results from a Fox News poll released Wednesday show the race is still hotly contested. Among the VP candidates, Ryan leads with 46% of the overall votes, with Biden at 44%. As for the men at the top of the tickets, Romney leads by one point, well within the margin of error, with 46%; Obama stays close behind at 45%.