Vice President Joe Biden sparred with Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan in a lively debate over taxes, foreign policy, the economy, abortion, Medicare and Social Security.
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Biden struck an aggressive tone in Thursday night’s debate at Centre College in Danville, Ky., to make up for his running mate President Barack Obama’s lackluster performance at last week’s presidential debate (see Romney Debates Obama, Says He May Need a New Accountant).
Unlike Obama, Biden pointed to Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s comments on the 47 percent of the U.S. population who pay no federal income taxes and tied it to comments made by the former Massachusetts governor’s running mate, Ryan, who chairs the House Budget Committee. Biden noted that the Obama administration had moved to rescue General Motors and the housing industry when Obama took office.
“Romney said, no, let Detroit go bankrupt,” said Biden. “We moved in and helped people refinance their homes. Governor Romney said, no, let foreclosures hit the bottom. But it shouldn’t be surprising for a guy who says 47 percent of the American people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own lives.
“My friend recently, in a speech in Washington, said 30 percent of the American people are takers,” Biden added, referring to Ryan. “These people are my mom and dad, the people I grew up with, my neighbors. They pay more effective tax than Governor Romney pays 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 who are, quote, not paying any taxes.
“I’ve had it up to here with this notion that 47 percent, it’s about time they take some responsibility here,” said Biden. “And instead of signing pledges to Grover Norquist not to ask the wealthiest among us to contribute to bring back the middle class, they should be signing a pledge saying to the middle class, we’re going to level the playing field. We’re going to give you a fair shot again. We are going to not repeat the mistakes we made in the past by having a different set of rules for Wall Street and Main Street, making sure that we continue to hemorrhage these tax cuts for the superwealthy. They’re pushing the continuation of a tax cut that will give an additional $500 billion in tax cuts to 120,000 families. And they’re holding hostage the middle-class tax cut because they say, we won’t continue the middle-class tax cut unless you give the tax cut for the super-wealthy. It’s about time they take some responsibility.”
"If you heard that little soliloquy on 47 percent, and you think he just made a mistake, then I got a bridge to sell you," Biden later added.
Ryan defended Romney’s five-point plan for fixing the economy, noting that it includes tax cuts that would help the middle class, and criticized the Obama administration for the slow pace of economic growth. “We’re going in the wrong direction,” he said. “Look at where we are. The economy is barely limping along. It’s growing at 1.3 percent. That’s slower than it grew last year, and last year was slower than the year before. Job growth in September was slower than it was in August, and August was slower than it was in July. We’re heading in the wrong direction.
“Twenty-three million Americans are struggling for work today,” Ryan added. “Fifteen percent of Americans are living in poverty today. This is not what a real recovery looks like. We need real reforms for a real recovery, and that’s exactly what Mitt Romney and I are proposing. It’s five-point plan. Get America energy-independent in North America by the end of the decade. Help people who are hurting get the skills they need to get the jobs they want. Get this deficit and debt under control to prevent a debt crisis. Make trade work for America so we can make more things in America and sell them overseas and champion small businesses. Don’t raise taxes on small businesses, because they’re our job creators.”
Ryan, like Romney, declined to provide specifics on their tax cut plan, which would cut tax rates by 20 percent but limit tax deductions for upper-income earners. Biden claimed it would raise taxes by $2,000 on middle-class families, but Ryan disputed those figures.
“We’re arguing that the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire,” said Biden. “Of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, $800 billion of that goes to people making a minimum of a million dollars. We see no justification in these economic times for those, and they’re patriotic Americans. They’re not asking for this continued tax cut. They’re not suggesting it, but my friends are insisting on it. A hundred and twenty thousand families, by continuing that tax cut, will get an additional $500 billion in tax relief in the next 10 years, and their income is an average of $8 million. We want to extend permanently the middle-class tax cut. These guys won’t allow us to.”
Biden claimed Republicans were preventing separate votes in Congress on preserving the tax cuts for the middle class and the wealthy in order to preserve tax cuts at the high end. “We say let’s have a vote,” he said. “Let’s have a vote on the middle-class tax cut, and let’s have a vote on the upper tax cut. Let’s go ahead and vote on it. They’re saying no. They’re holding hostage the middle-class tax cut to the super wealthy. And on top of that, they got another tax cut coming that’s $5 trillion that all of the studies point out will, in fact, give another $250,000 a year to those 120,000 families and raise taxes for people who are middle-income with a child by $2,000 a year. This is unconscionable. There is no need for this. The middle class got knocked on their heels. The Great Recession crushed them. They need some help now. The last people who need help are 120,000 families for another $500 billion tax cut over the next 10 years.”
Ryan, like Romney, disputed those claims and said their tax reform plan would create jobs. “Our entire premise of these tax reform plans is to grow the economy and create jobs. It’s a plan that’s estimated to create 7 million jobs,” he said. “Now, we think that government taking 28 percent of a family and business’s income is enough. President Obama thinks that the government ought to be able to take as much as 44.8 percent of a small business’s income. Look, if you taxed every person in a successful small business making over $250,000 at 100 percent, it would only run the government for 98 days. If everybody who paid income taxes last year, including successful small businesses, doubled their income taxes this year, we’d still have a $300 billion deficit. You see, there aren’t enough rich people and small businesses to tax to pay for all their spending. And so the next time you hear them say, ‘Don’t worry about it, we’ll get a few wealthy people to pay their fair share,’ watch out, middle class. The tax bill is coming to you.”
Ryan noted that eight out of 10 businesses file their taxes as individuals, not as corporations. The Wisconsin congressman claimed that Obama wants the top effective tax rate on successful small businesses to be as high as 40 percent, when the average tax rate on businesses in the industrialized world is 25 percent. “Two-thirds of our jobs come from small businesses,” said Ryan. “This one tax would actually tax about 53 percent of small-business income. It’s expected that would cost us 710,000 jobs. And you know what? It doesn’t even pay for 10 percent of their proposed deficit spending increases. What we are saying is lower tax rates across the board and close loopholes, primarily to the higher-income people. We have three bottom lines: Don’t raise the deficit, don’t raise taxes on the middle class and don’t lower the share of income that is borne by the high-income earners.”