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Fact or fiction in the U.S. vice presidential debate?

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 12 Oct 2012 06:09 AM
Author: Reuters
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By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and his Republican rival, Paul Ryan, faced off on Thursday in their only debate before the Nov. 6 presidential election. Here is some fact-checking of claims made by the candidates.

RYAN: ECONOMIC GROWTH IS SLOWER NOW

During the debate, Ryan said the economy is "growing at 1.3 percent. That's slower than it grew last year and last year was slower than the year before."

Ryan is correct.

U.S. gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of 1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. For all of 2011, it grew 1.8 percent and for all of 2010 it grew 2.4 percent.

However, the economy shrank for four consecutive quarters from the third quarter of 2008 through the second quarter of 2009, including a whopping 8.9 percent contraction in the last three months of 2008.

U.S. GDP has posted 12 consecutive quarters of growth since the middle of 2009 and economists expect the streak to continue.

Many economists attribute slower growth in 2011 to the European sovereign debt crisis and the effects of U.S. political gridlock surrounding increasing the national borrowing limit.

BIDEN: THE RECESSION WAS CAUSED BY SPENDING ON WARS, THE MEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT AND TAX CUTS

During the debate, Biden said, "And, by the way, they talk about this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh, my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man (Ryan) voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the same time put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, a trillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. I voted against them. I said, 'No, we can't afford that.'"

Biden was reaching.

While many factors contributed to the deep recession between December, 2007 and June 2009, the downturn was primarily due to the collapse of financial markets amid a tidal wave of bad debts, over borrowing by consumers and businesses and a wildly over-valued housing market.

Democrats tend to blame spending on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush for causing the massive U.S. budget deficit, but not for causing the recession.

RYAN: UNEMPLOYMENT IS GOING UP IN SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA, AND NATIONALLY

During the debate, Ryan said, "Joe and I are from similar towns. He's from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I'm from Janesville, Wisconsin. You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton is today?"

"I sure do," said Biden.

"It's 10 percent," said Ryan. "You know what it was the day you guys came in - 8.5 percent. ... That's how it's going all around America."

"You don't read the statistics," responded Biden. "That's not how it's going. It's going down."

Ryan was only half right.

The unemployment rate for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre metropolitan area was 9.6 percent in August, according to the Labor Department. It was 8.4 percent in January 2009, when Obama took office, and peaked at 10.4 percent in January 2010.

However, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent in September, the same level as when President Barack Obama took office. The national unemployment level peaked at 10 percent in October 2009.

BIDEN: RYAN'S BUDGET CUT EMBASSY SECURITY FUNDING

In a discussion of the recent death of the U.S. ambassador to Libya during an attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Biden said, "The congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by ${esc.dollar}300 million below what we asked for."

Biden was extrapolating.

The figure comes from the budget blueprint Ryan prepared as chairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, which would have cut non-defense discretionary spending by 19 percent in 2014. That would equal about ${esc.dollar}300 million for embassy security, construction and maintenance.

Ryan's budget proposal passed the Republican House but never came to a vote in the Democratic-majority Senate. Had it been enacted, appropriations committees would have been the ones to determine how much something as specific as diplomatic mission security would be funded.

RYAN: IRAN HAS ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR FIVE NUCLEAR BOMBS

In a discussion of the effectiveness of the Obama administration's policy on Iran's nuclear program, Ryan said, "When Barack Obama was elected they (the Iranians) had enough fissile material - nuclear material to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They are racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability."

Ryan was wrong.

Analysts believe Iran has enough uranium for one to three bombs but only after proper processing. The Institute for Science and International Security says that Iran has not enriched that material to the level needed for a single nuclear weapon, let alone five, and has been held back by international pressure.

"Without past negotiated outcomes, international pressure, sanctions, and intelligence operations, Iran would likely have nuclear weapons by now. Iran has proven vulnerable to international pressure," the ISIS said.

BIDEN: THE ROMNEY-RYAN TAX PLAN, WHICH WOULD CUT TAX RATES BY 20 PERCENT, WOULD REDUCE GOVERNMENT REVENUES BY ${esc.dollar}5 TRILLION

This was another round in an argument that arose in the debate between Obama and Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

In the vice-presidential debate, Ryan said, "You can cut tax rates by 20 percent and still preserve these important preferences for middle-class taxpayers."

Biden responded that this was "not mathematically possible."

Both men were playing with numbers.

Romney would cut tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate taxes on investment income for those earning under ${esc.dollar}200,000, get rid of the estate tax and reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percent from 35 percent. That adds up to ${esc.dollar}5 trillion less in federal revenue over ten years, according to the Tax Policy Center.

In order to make up for the loss, Romney would have to eliminate 65 percent of all loopholes in the tax system to make up for those tax cuts, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center has said.

Cutting the ten largest tax breaks - which include popular deductions for mortgage interest payments and employer contributions for health insurance - could achieve that amount of lost revenue, the Congressional Research Service has said.

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