WASHINGTON – Anyone who paid attention to a hearing in Congress this week knew that the administration had been implored to beef up security at the U.S. Consulate in Libya before the deadly terrorist attack there. But in the vice presidential debate Thursday night, Joe Biden seemed unaware.
"We weren't told they wanted more security there," the vice president asserted flatly. During a night in which Biden and Republican rival Paul Ryan both drifted from the facts on a range of domestic and foreign issues, that was a standout.
A look at some of their claims:
BIDEN: "Well, we weren't told they wanted more security there. We did not know they wanted more security again. And by the way, at the time we were told exactly — we said exactly what the intelligence community told us that they knew. That was the assessment. And as the intelligence community changed their view, we made it clear they changed their view."
RYAN: "There were requests for more security."
THE FACTS: Ryan is right, judging by testimony from Obama administration officials at the hearing a day earlier.
Charlene R. Lamb, a deputy assistant secretary for diplomatic security, told lawmakers she refused requests for more security in Benghazi, saying the department wanted to train Libyans to protect the consulate. "Yes, sir, I said personally I would not support it," she said.
Eric Nordstrom, who was the top security official in Libya earlier this year, testified he was criticized for seeking more security. He said conversations he had with people in Washington led him to believe that it was "abundantly clear we were not going to get resources until the aftermath of an incident. How thin does the ice have to get before someone falls through?"
He said his exasperation reached a point where he told a colleague that "for me the Taliban is on the inside of the building."
RYAN: "Look at just the $90 billion in stimulus the vice president was in charge of overseeing — this $90 billion in green pork to campaign contributors and special interest groups."
THE FACTS: Dismissing an entire package of energy stimulus grants and loans as "green pork" ignores the help that was given to people to make their homes more energy efficient, grants to public entities constructing high speed rail lines and tax credits to manufacturers to install equipment fostering cleaner energy.
To be sure, there were notable failed investments, such as $528 million to the politically connected and now-bankrupt solar power company Solyndra. But Ryan's claim made it sound like every penny went down the drain.
More broadly, economists are nearly universal in saying President Barack Obama's $800 billion-plus stimulus passed in early 2009 helped create both public-sector and private-sector jobs, even if they fell short of what sponsors had hoped. Douglas Elmendorf, director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, estimated the stimulus saved or created more than 3 million jobs.
BIDEN: "We went out and rescued General Motors."
THE FACTS: Actually, the auto bailout of General Motors and Chrysler began under President George W. Bush. The Obama administration continued and expanded it.
___ RYAN: "And then they put this new Obamacare board in charge of cutting Medicare each and every year in ways that will lead to denied care for current seniors. This board, by the way, it's 15 people, the president's supposed to appoint them next year. And not one of them even has to have medical training."
THE FACTS: Ryan is referring to the Independent Payment Advisory Board, created under President Barack Obama's health care overhaul law. It has the power to force cuts in Medicare payments to service providers if costs rise above certain levels and Congress fails to act. But it doesn't look like the board will be cutting Medicare "each and every year," as Ryan asserts. Medicare costs are currently rising modestly and the government's own experts project the board's intervention will not be needed until 2018 and 2019 at the earliest — after Obama leaves office if re-elected to a second term.
BIDEN, when asked who would pay more taxes in Obama's second term: "People making a million dollars or more."
THE FACTS: Obama's proposed tax increase reaches farther down the income ladder than millionaires. He wants to roll back Bush-era tax cuts for individuals making more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000.
RYAN: "We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability. Now, let's take a look at where we've gone — come from. When Barack Obama was elected, they had enough fissile material — nuclear material — to make one bomb. Now they have enough for five. They're racing toward a nuclear weapon. They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability."
THE FACTS: Ryan's claim is misleading. Iran isn't believed to have produced any of the highly enriched uranium needed to produce even one nuclear weapon, let alone five. That point isn't even disputed by Israel, whose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu implored the world at the United Nations last month to create a "red line" at enrichment above 20 percent. Iran would have to enrich uranium at much higher levels to produce a weapon. There is intelligence suggesting that Iran has worked on weapon designs, but not that it has developed a delivery system for any potential nuclear warhead.
BIDEN: "What we did is, we saved $716 billion and put it back, applied it to Medicare."
THE FACTS: Contrary to Biden's assertion, not all the money cut from Medicare is going back into the program in some other way. The administration is cutting $716 billion over 10 years in Medicare payments to providers and using some of the money to improve benefits under the program. But most of the money is being used to expand health care coverage outside of Medicare.
RYAN: "What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they're doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They're infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals."
THE FACTS: The requirement under the health care law that most employers cover birth control free of charge to female employees does not apply to churches, houses of worship, or other institutions directly involved in propagating a religious faith. It does apply to church-affiliated institutions such as hospitals and charities that serve the general public.
BIDEN: "Romney said 'No, let Detroit go bankrupt.'"
THE FACTS: GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney has gotten endless grief through the campaign for the headline put on a November 2008 opinion essay he wrote for The New York Times. But his point was never that he wanted the auto industry to go down the tubes.
Romney opposed using government money to bail out Chrysler and General Motors, instead favoring privately financed bankruptcy restructuring. His prescription seemed improbable. Automakers were hemorrhaging cash and the banking system was in crisis, so private money wasn't available. Without the government money, it's likely both companies would have gone out of business. Romney did propose government-guaranteed private loans for both companies after bankruptcy.
RYAN: "We should have spoken out right away when the green revolution was up and starting, when the mullahs in Iran were attacking their people. We should not have called Bashar Assad a reformer when he was turning his Russian-provided guns on his own people."
THE FACTS: Neither Obama nor anyone else in his administration ever considered the Syrian leader a "reformer." The oft-repeated charge stems from an interview Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton gave in March 2011 noting that "many of the members of Congress of both parties who have gone to Syria in recent months have said they believe he's a reformer." She did not endorse that view. The comment was widely perceived to be a knock at senators, such as John Kerry of Massachusetts, who maintained cordial relations with Assad in the months leading up to his crackdown on protesters.
BIDEN: "It is the responsibility of the Afghans to take care of their own security ... If the (training) measures the military has taken do not take hold, we will not go on joint patrols. We will not train in the field. We'll only train in the -- in the Army bases that exist there. But we are leaving. We are leaving in 2014. Period."
THE FACTS: Biden's assertion oversimplifies the process of winding down the Afghan war. Although most U.S. troops will leave by the end of 2014, thousands are likely to stay and continue a U.S. presence for years. There is no telling what fighting they might be drawn into, despite the decision to end the U.S. combat role. Analysts say the U.S. envisions a post-2014 force of as many as 20,000 American troops to continue training the Afghan forces, hunt terrorists and keep watch on Iran and other nations in the region.
RYAN: "This one tax would actually tax about 53 percent of small-business income."
BIDEN: "Ninety-seven percent of the small businesses in America pay less — make less than $250,000."
THE FACTS: Both are correct, but incomplete, when sizing up the effect on small business of raising taxes for individuals making more than $200,000 and married couples making more than $250,000, as Obama wants to do. Republicans say that would hit small-business owners who report business income on their individual income tax; Democrats say the overwhelming majority of small businesses would not be affected.
According to a 2010 report by the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress, about 3 percent of people who report business income would face a tax increase under Obama's plan. That support's Biden's point.
The same report says those business owners account for about half of all business income. That supports Ryan.
RYAN: Notes that there have been four rounds of U.N. sanctions on Iran to deter its nuclear program, three during the Bush administration and one under Obama. "And the only reason we got it is because Russia watered it down and prevented the sanctions from hitting the central bank. Mitt Romney proposed these sanctions in 2007. In Congress, I've been fighting for these sanctions since 2009. The administration was blocking us every step of the way." He also noted the administration has granted 20 waivers to the sanctions.
THE FACTS: The argument that the administration was watering down or delaying sanctions is misleading. For sanctions to work, they need maximum global agreement and cooperation. Russia watered down U.N. sanctions not only under Obama, but also under Bush. And it's highly unlikely that a Romney administration, particularly led by a candidate who says Russia is the biggest geostrategic threat to the U.S., would be able to get Russia completely on board with what the U.S. wants to — either in Iran or Syria.
The more absolute U.S. sanctions that Ryan and others have pushed in Congress would have punished U.S. allies, including most countries in Europe as well as Japan and South Korea, along with good friends like India and Singapore — without the exemptions that were put in place.
The administration has indeed granted 20 waivers, to countries that made significant reductions in Iranian oil imports. And the sanctions are pinching; Iran has been convulsed over the past week with protests over the collapse of its currency, which most people say is a direct result of the sanctions that the U.S. and others have imposed.