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Biden, Ryan Square Off on Economy, Middle East

Vice President Joe Biden (l) and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, Oct. 11, 2012.

Vice President Joe Biden (l) and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin participate in the vice presidential debate at Centre College, in Danville, Kentucky, Oct. 11, 2012.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and the Republican vice presidential candidate, Representative Paul Ryan, presented stark political differences in their only planned debate before the November election.

During the nationally televised event at a small college in Kentucky, Ryan said Americans are watching the "absolute unraveling" of the Obama administration at a time when "problems are growing abroad but jobs aren't growing at home."

When discussing the U.S. financial crisis, Biden called on Republicans in Congress, including Representative Ryan, to "get out of the way" and let the Obama administration fix the economy.

"They talk about this great recession that fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man voting to put two wars on a credit card," the vice president said.

Ryan fired back by asserting that President Barack Obama and Congressional Democrats came into office in 2008 with "one-party control" that gave them the ability to do "everything of their choosing." He said that the administration told Americans that if a stimulus was passed, the economy would grow at four percent, but it is only growing at 1.3 percent.

Divisions over Afghanistan, Middle East

With regard to America's foreign policy, Ryan and U.S. Vice President Biden opposed each other's position on Afghanistan, with Biden declaring that U.S. troops will leave Afghanistan in 2014 and Ryan taking a more circumstantial approach to withdrawal.

"We don't want to broadcast to our enemies, 'Put a date on your calendar. Wait us out and then come back,'" Ryan said.

On Syria, Biden praised the Obama adminstration's careful work with America's allies in pressuring Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step down.

"We are doing it exactly like we need to do to identify those forces who, in fact, will provide for a stable government and not cause a regional Sunni-Shia (Shi'ite) war when Bashar Assad falls," Biden said.

Ryan said it has been over a year since international pressure mounted and President Barack Obama said the Syrian president should go. He said the Obama administration should have "had a better plan in place" that "more easily identified" Syrian allies, but instead allowed tens of thousands to die in the conflict and more foreign fighters to "spill into" the country.

On Libya, Biden called last month's attack against the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya, "a tragedy," promising that whatever "mistakes" were made "will not be made again."

Ryan slammed the Obama administration for not providing enough security in Benghazi and for taking "two weeks to acknowledge that this was a terrorist attack."

"Our ambassador in Paris has a marine detachment guarding him. Shouldn't we have a marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi, a place where we knew that there was an al-Qaida cell with arms?," he said.

The vice president argued that President Barack Obama was not told that the consulate wanted more security.

On Iran, Ryan said the Islamic Republic has become "brazen" because the Obama administration has "no credibility" on the issue of Iran's nuclear program. Biden countered this claim, asserting that the U.S. has placed "the most crippling sanctions in the history of sanctions" on Iran.

The 69-year-old Biden is widely regarded as an experienced debater and skilled politician, based on his 36 years in the Senate before becoming vice president in 2009. Ryan, a 42-year-old congressman from the midwestern state of Wisconsin, is considered a rising star among conservative Republicans.

Candidates fight for battleground states

The debate late Thursday comes as Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney is gaining momentum in voter opinion polls after his strong performance in last week's debate against the Democratic incumbent, President Obama.

The presidential contenders were back on the campaign trail Thursday, with Obama rallying supporters in the southeastern state of Florida. Romney addressed supporters in North Carolina before plans to crisscross the battleground states of Virginia and Ohio on Friday. Those four states hold a combined 75 of the 270 electoral votes needed to win the November 6 election.
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    Carla Babb

    Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

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