Biden, Ryan Spar — Sort Of — Over Coming Defense Cuts

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) and Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., participate in the vice presidential debate as moderator Martha Raddatz looks on at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Vice President Joe Biden and the man who wants his job, GOP Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, took several jabs at one another about Pentagon spending during their one and only debate.

At issue is a $500 billion, decade-long cut to planned Pentagon spending that would take effect Jan. 2 unless lawmakers pass a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan, or another measure that voids or delays the automatic defense cuts (and a twin cut to domestic spending).

Ryan got the defense spending sparring started. And the always-feisty Biden was happy to play along.

“We should not be imposing these devastating defence cuts, because what that does when we equivocate on our values, when we show that we’re cutting down on defence, it makes us more weak, Ryan said. “It projects weakness. And when we look weak, our adversaries are much more willing to test us. They’re more brazen in their attacks, and are allies are less willing to…”

Biden interrupted, as he did at many points during the debate.

“With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey,” the VP opined

When asked by the moderator why he felt that way, Biden veered away from the Pentagon’s budget despite promising to be “very specific.”

He went on to hit Ryan for proposing in his 2013 budget plan — the GOP VP nominee is the House Budget Committee chairman — proposed slashing things like embassy security. He threw verbal grenades about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney criticizing the White House over the Libya embassy attack that left the U.S. ambassador and three others dead. He credited his boss with getting China and Russia to back measures aimed at tightening the screws on Iran over its nuclear arms ambitions.

But wait, there was more.

When Ryan was asked how he and Romney would, as they have proposed, swell the annual Pentagon budget.

“No, we’re not just going to cut the defence budget like … they’re proposing,” Ryan said.

Biden broke in: “They’re going to increase it $2 [trillion].”

Then it was off into the weeds.

The veep candidates spent a few seconds blaming the other political party for insisting the automatic cuts be included in the 2011 legislation that called for the $500 billion cut to planned Pentagon spending.

Following that was a somewhat incoherent back-and-forth about one side cutting spending by $1 trillion and the other swelling it by $2 trillion. (Yes, you do! No, we don’t!)

Ryan came back with a little substance, saying the cuts would mean “we’re going to cut 80,000 soldiers, 20,000 Marines, 120 cargo planes, we’re going to push the Joint Strike Fighter out…” He also said it would mean “our Navy will be the smallest … it has been since before World War I.”

Ryan said blocking the cuts and increasing defense spending would keep the military strong, and he evoked former President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine.

The exchange ended with longtime Captiol Hill veteran Biden reminding Ryan he voted for the 2011 bill that established the coming cuts.

“This automatic cut — that was part of a debt deal that they asked for,” Biden said. “And let me tell you what my friend said at a press conference announcing his support of the deal. He said, and I’m paraphrase, ‘We’ve been looking for this moment for a long time’,” Biden said.

Of course, that’s not what Ryan meant back then, according to Ryan.

“Can I tell you what that meant?” the GOP candidate said. “We’ve been looking for bipartisanship for a long time.”

John T. Bennett

John T. Bennett

Bennett is the Editor of Defense News' CongressWatch channel. He has a Masters degree in Global Security Studies from Johns Hopkins University.
John T. Bennett