By Rob Bluey
The Heritage Foundation
Vice President Biden and Representative Paul Ryan squared off last night for a spirited and intense 90-minute debate at Centre College in Danville, KY. Topics ranged from foreign to domestic, touching on serious issues that Heritage policy experts grapple with every day.
While many commentators were critiquing style, a team of 19 Heritage experts cut through the malarkey and focused on substance. They reacted instantly to the debate last night, providing policy research on the multitude of questions raised by moderator and ABC News correspondent Martha Raddatz. Below are some of the highlights of our experts’ reactions to the major issues addressed.
Don’t Blame Budget Cuts for Libya Embassy Attack
Biden claimed that Ryan’s budget is partly responsible for the failures of security that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, saying that “The Congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we asked for.”
As Heritage expert Brett Schaefer pointed out on The Foundry: “Overall funding for those programs has increased sharply over the past decade. Indeed, Worldwide Security Protection is more than double what it was a decade ago. … Moreover, the State Department has considerable latitude in allocating security funds based on current events and intelligence on possible threats. Why that latitude was not applied in Libya deserves further scrutiny.”
It’s also worth noting that the U.S. Senate has not actually adopted a budget in more than three years. So it is hard to see how the appropriations process is the appropriate place to start looking for the failures that led to the death of Stevens and his colleagues. The problems run deeper than that.
–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
A Not-So-Balanced Approach on Spending
Biden echoed the all-too-familiar mantra that a so-called “balanced approach” is necessary to fix our spending and debt issues. Sounds fair, right? Except that the policy prescription he and President Obama advocate consists of more stimulus spending – disguised as critical investments, of course — plusmassive tax hikes on high-income earners and small businesses, for starters. That’s a double whammy guaranteed to harm the economy.
Ryan rightly points out the sluggish economic growth the United States has experienced recently. The unemployment rate is still outlandishly high, and GDP has grown at a crawling rate. It is hardly the recovery Americans were assured would result from federal stimulus spending. That’s all the more reason not to double down on tax hikes on Americans or propose even more government spending. The economy needs to be free from the threat of Taxmageddon and other tax hikes, and Washington needs to curb its spending problem.
–Emily Goff, Research Associate, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
The Transnational Terrorism Threat
The debate took a quick tour over the landscape of transnational terrorism from Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan to Iran. It was so quick that no one bothered to explain where the war against transnational terrorism stands today.
The case in Libya is tragically all too clear. Al-Qaeda affiliates have established a base in the country. In Iraq, the AP recently reported that since the United States “ended” the war, the number of al-Qaeda in the country has doubled. Iran remains one of the world’s most notorious state sponsors of terrorism. The Taliban and other affiliates are threatening the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Whoever holds the Oval office in January is going to have to deal with a significant transnational terrorism threat. The current U.S. strategy is just not up to the task.
–James Jay Carafano, Deputy Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
Obama Tax Hike Would Devastate Jobs
Biden discussed President Obama’s plan to raise the top two marginal tax rates. If that were to occur, the economy would create 710,000 fewer jobs, according the accounting firm Ernst & Young. Jobs would suffer badly because, even though the Vice President said only 3 percent would pay those higher rates, those 3 percent are the biggest, most successful small businesses that do all the hiring. The Ernst & Young study found the Obama tax hike would devastate jobs because those businesses that would pay the higher rates employ 54 percent of the private workforce.
On the other hand, tax reform like Governor Mitt Romney and Ryan propose would lower rates to encourage growth and do so without reducing revenue or shifting the tax burden from high income taxpayers to middle income families. Even the Tax Policy Center, which is the group Obama and Biden cite to criticize the Romney tax plan, does not claim the Romney plan would reduce revenue — never mind by $5 trillion.
–Curtis Dubay, Senior Policy Analyst, Tax Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies
The $6,400 Question on Medicare
The allegation that premium support in Medicare would cost seniors more than $6,400 more is both wrong and misleading. Heritage expert Rea Hederman explains, “[T]his dollar amount is incorrect, and the charge is erroneous. Such false charges are based on an outdated Congressional Budget Office (CBO) model of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s (R–WI) 2011 budget proposal.” In fact, under Ryan’s current proposal, a senior would be guaranteed at least two health plans whose premiums meet 100 percent of the contribution amount. Read the facts.
Heritage expert Bob Moffit explains, “There is no major Medicare reform proposal, including the Ryan proposal, that would issue future senior citizens a voucher (a certificate or coupon or a check for a fixed dollar amount).” Under premium support, the government provides a direct payment from a government account to a health plan of a person’s choice, including traditional Medicare. Under premium support, plans would all have to meet government standards and provide at least the benefits of traditional Medicare. See how Ryan’s plan compares to the Heritage’s premium support proposal.
Medicare’s trust fund is projected to be bankrupt by 2024 and over the long-term the program has made $37 trillion worth of benefit promises to seniors that aren’t funded. Despite these serious problems, Obamacare cuts Medicare by $716 billion over the next 10 years and uses the “savings” to fund new spending in Obamacare.
–Alyene Senger, Research Assistant, Center for Health Policy Studies
Saving the American Dream
After a discussion of Iran, debate moderator Raddatz moved the conversation to a “different kind of national security issue” — the economy. Raddatz was entirely right to put it that way. You can be a liberal or a conservative, but it is impossible to believe that the United States can continue, over the long run, to lead in the world, to meet its national security responsibilities, to protect its allies, its interests, and its ideals, if its economy continues to grow slowly and the budget is consumed by entitlement spending.
A strong economy is not just vital for our prosperity: it is vital for our security. Unfortunately, after Raddatz’s well-crafted introduction, neither candidate made the connection she seemed to be hoping for, with both of them presenting their respective views on tax and economic policy. But as Heritage’sSaving the American Dream plan points out, fiscal responsibility needs to go hand in hand with international responsibility.
–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
Don’t Lose Gains in Afghanistan
Ryan was crystal clear that the United States should not lose the gains made in Afghanistan over the last decade and must ensure the Taliban cannot regain influence there. By contrast, Biden staunchly defended the administration’s commitment to withdraw all combat forces by the end of 2014, but failed to explain how the United States would ensure Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorists intent on attacking the United States.
It is misleading for Biden to maintain that the only U.S. interest in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In reality, U.S. national security is inextricably linked to the future of Afghanistan. If the United States turns its back on Afghanistan, as it did in 1989, the Taliban are likely to regain influence, providing a boost to Islamist extremists throughout the world and an opportunity for al-Qaeda to revive itself. The truth is the United States will have to remain engaged in Afghanistan diplomatically, economically, and militarily through counterterrorism missions and training long after 2014.
Not only did the Obama Administration err in announcing the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawals back in December 2009, before U.S. surge forces had even been deployed, it also hasfumbled the handling of peace talks with the Taliban. The administration has been more intent on striking a deal with the Taliban in order to justify troop withdrawals, than on using the option of negotiations as a tool to moderate the Taliban’s behavior and bring them into a political process.
–Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center
Unprecedented and Unconstitutional HHS Mandate
The Obamacare Health and Human Services preventative services mandate requires nearly all employers to cover abortion drugs, contraception, and sterilization regardless of moral or religious objections, effectively exempting only formal houses of worship. More than 100 plaintiffs have already been forced to go to court in an attempt to escape the coercive rule and protect their religious freedom.
The anti-conscience mandate is unprecedented and unconstitutional, and it is only an early warning sign of how one-size-fits-all health care requirements will trample on religious liberty as well as individual liberty. It should be a warning sign to Americans that one of the first parts of Obamacare to be implemented will force employers with religious and moral convictions to violate their consciences.
–Sarah Torre, Research Assistant, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society
The Importance of Judges
Ryan and Biden talked about the importance of judges in this election and the likelihood that the next president will appoint one or more Supreme Court justices. They are right. The future of the Supreme Court does hang in the balance.
One vote may well change the court’s constitutional rulings on a host of issues that are critical to Americans who value freedom, including gun rights, the death penalty, private property rights, free speech, the free exercise of religion, and health care. If one constitutionalist justice leaves the Supreme Court and is replaced by a liberal judicial activist, our lives will be very different.
–John Malcolm, Senior Legal Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies
Military Readiness Must Remain an Issue
Sequestration and other defense cuts cannot be ignored. It is imperative that our nation’s leaders never forget that they have a duty to provide for the Common Defense. Cavalierly allowing the already atrophied defense capabilities of America to whither further is completely unacceptable. It is not responsible to hold defense hostage to new tax hikes that do not have the votes in Congress to pass normally.
America’s readiness is at the edge: smallest Army since before the Second World War, smallest Navy since before the First World War, and the smallest Air Force ever. The leaders of the nation owe the American people better than this.
–Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow Defense & Homeland Security, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies
“We Believe in Opportunity and Upward Mobility”
Ryan could not have summed up the argument for economic freedom and limited government more clearly and concisely than when he stated: “We believe in opportunity and upward mobility.” This belief, which is at the heart of the American Dream, grows out of our founding principles.
It’s perhaps no surprise then that Ryan was the only one to invoke these principles. “We will not replace our founding principles, we will re-apply our founding principles,” he explained, thereby countering the progressive trope that we somehow need to move beyond our principles.
–David Azerrad, Associate Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics
For more analysis of the debate, video, a slideshow of photos, and a word cloud of Obama’s and Romney’s answers, visit Heritage’s Debate 2012 page.