WASHINGTON – At the moment, Joe Biden’s position in the campaign arrives as an irony. Holding a trifling job and banished to the woodshed for some malapropisms, the Democrats’ presidential campaign may turn on how the vice president performs in his televised debate three days from now.
In his match Thursday with Rep. Paul Ryan, the Republican nominee for vice president, the plain-speaking Biden has a chance to put the substance of the campaign back where it belongs.
Not on style or who looks presidential, but on two fundamental questions: Has this crop of Republicans shown it should be trusted with the welfare of struggling millions in this Great Recession? And, does the GOP really have the prosperity of the American middle class close to its heart?
Both of these questions turn on the 2013 spending plan produced by Ryan as chairman of the House Budget Committee (and shelved by the Democratic Senate), passed by the Republican-controlled House and embraced by presidential nominee Mitt Romney.
It will be Biden’s opportunity – no, honor – to take on Ryanism in a few days. The Ryan budget embraced by Romney in the Denver debate ends Medicare as an earned benefit for all but those over 55 years of age, and Romney sweetly calls on those over 55 to sell out the next generation.
The plan would cap federal spending on Medicaid, the health program for the poor, freeze benefits and turn the burden of paying for soaring health costs over to the states and, in New York’s case, to county taxpayers.
Romney-Ryan would not just continue the Bush-Cheney tax cuts, which are largely responsible for the deficits. Romney-Ryan would also abolish investment taxes, further enriching the most fortunate. According to the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, these moves would reduce federal revenues by about $450 billion a year – or $4.5 trillion over 10 years.
The center found that “those making $1 million or more would enjoy an average tax cut of $265,000 and see their after-tax income increase by 12.5 percent. By contrast, half of those making between $20,000 and $30,000 would get no tax cut at all.” According to studies by the National Journal, the Urban Institute and the Economic Policy Institute, Romney-Ryan’s plan to cut $4 trillion from the deficit leans heavily on cuts to programs desperately needed by the poor, and newly impoverished middle-class Americans – food stamps, child nutrition, housing aid, help for the working poor, children’s health, aid to veterans and subsidies to local and state transportation agencies. This last, driving up Thruway tolls and bus and subway fares.
Neither Ryan nor Romney offers an answer to health insurance premium increases, or eradicating the insurance industry’s worst practices, such as cutting off coverage because of illness, or denying coverage because of pre-existing conditions. Romney claimed in Denver his Massachusetts plan covers pre-existing conditions. Economist Paul Krugman made a convincing case in Friday’s New York Times that Romney prevaricated.
Besides, Ryan and his fellow obstructionists in the House GOP majority have no plan to replace the middle class consumer protections in Obamacare with their own. Just as Ryan’s corporatist clique has very different notions from Romney’s on curbing Communist China’s trade abuses, which have destroyed middle-class jobs.
Romney grew as a debater on the primary campaign trail. But strip away the poise and quick answers, and Ryanism, which Romney supports, should be at the core of this year’s contest.
On Thursday, Biden, whose family experienced real financial challenges as he grew up, has a golden opening to expose the Republican “reforms” for the sham that they are.