Nailing Jell-O to the Wall

Biden did a lot better than his president did in the first debate. But Obama still needs to hammer home all of the inconsistencies and evasions in the Romney-Ryan positions on such key issues as Social Security, Medicare, and taxation.

Between moderator Martha Raddatz’s questioning and the vice-president’s persistence, the viewer just about grasped that the Romney-Ryan arithmetic was entirely bogus when the Republicans claim that there were $5 trillion worth of loopholes that can be closed to pay for new tax cuts without cutting programs, giving further breaks to the rich, or increasing the deficit.

But Biden did not quite demand in so many words:

Which loopholes would you close?

What would they add up to?

And (since the Republicans have no plausible answer) why aren’t you telling us?

The Romney-Ryan position that these details would be worked out with Congress is, in Biden’s term, malarkey. But the viewer had to be paying careful attention to appreciate the full phoniness of the caper and what it portends.

Likewise on Medicare, Biden did well smoking out the fact that Ryan has long supported a voucher; and that while current Medicare beneficiaries are spared, middle-aged Americans who will soon need Medicare would face deep cuts under the Republican plan. But when Raddatz sent a high hanging curve ball that should have been a home run for the Democrats, Biden fouled it off.

MS. RADDATZ: Vice President Biden, let me ask you, if it could help solve the problem, why not very slowly raise the Medicare eligibility age by two years, as Congressman Ryan suggests?

VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Look, I was there when we did that with Social Security, in 1983. I was one of eight people sitting in the room that included Tip O’Neill negotiating with President Reagan. We all got together, and everybody said, as long as everybody’s in the deal, everybody’s in the deal, and everybody is making some sacrifice, we can find a way. We made the system solvent to 2033.

We will not, though, be part of any voucher plan….

Jesus wept! Tip O’Neill and Ronald Reagan agreed in 1983 to raise the Social Security retirement age by two years, from 65 to 67. Biden was basically saying, sure, we know how to do that. The right answer was:

You would make seniors wait two more years to get Medicare. President Obama and I will never allow that. If the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, there is no reason to take Medicare away from seniors.

And when Ryan told a cloying anecdote about how Romney had taken pity on a family that had experienced a tragedy and offered to put their kids through college,

Biden might have said:

That’s the difference between the two parties. You would rely on the random charitable whims of very rich people like Governor Romney—which have never been equal to the need. We Democrats support public programs like Social Security and Pell Grants and Medicare so that these benefits are guaranteed. You Republicans would gut them in order to give even more tax breaks to the very wealthy.

The debate was about a tie. Biden landed a lot of punches and reinforced the general sense of Republican evasiveness and willingness to gut programs that help the middle class in order to reward the rich. He was appropriately scornful. Occasionally, he lapsed into condescending grins, while Ryan remained boy-scoutish.

But a lot of Ryan’s evasions and misrepresentations were not quite nailed to the wall. Let’s see whether President Obama can finish the job.

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