DANVILLE, Ky. — At odds early and often, Joe Biden and Republican Paul Ryan squabbled over the economy, taxes, Medicare and more Thursday night in a contentious, interruption-filled debate. “That is a bunch of malarkey,” the vice president retorted after a particularly tough Ryan attack on the administration’s foreign policy.
“I know you’re under a lot of duress to make up for lost ground, but I think people would be better served if we don’t interrupt each other,” Ryan later scolded his rival, referring to Democratic pressure on Biden to make up for President Barack Obama’s listless performance in last week’s debate with Mitt Romney.
There was nothing listless this time as the 69-year-old Biden sat next to the 42-year old Wisconsin congressman on a stage at Centre College in Kentucky.
Nearly 90 minutes after the initial disagreement over foreign policy, the two men were still at it, clashing sharply over rival approaches to reducing federal deficits.
“The president likes to say he has a plan,” said Ryan, a seven-term congressman. But in fact “he gave a speech” and never backed it up with details.
Biden conceded Republicans indeed had a plan. But he said that if enacted it would have “eviscerated all the things the middle class care about,” including cutting health care programs and education.
As Biden and Ryan well knew, last week’s presidential debate has fueled a Republican comeback in opinion polls.
Republicans and Democrats alike have said in recent days the presidential race now approximates the competitive situation in place before the two political conventions. Obama and Romney are generally separated by a point or two in national public opinion polls and in several battleground states, while the president holds a slender lead in Ohio and Wisconsin.
With Democrats eager for Biden to show the spark the president lacked, he did so. He supplemented his criticism by periodically smiling mockingly, wagging his finger and raising his arms in mock disbelief as his rival spoke.
Ryan, sitting on the national debate stage for the first time, settled on a smirk for parts of the debate. He sipped water and cleared his throat through many of Biden’s answers.
Unprompted, Biden brought up the video in which Romney had said 47 percent of Americans pay no federal income tax, view themselves as victims and do not take responsibility for their own lives.
“It’s about time they take responsibility” instead of signing pledges to avoid raising taxes, Biden said — of Romney, Ryan and the Republicans.
Ryan was ready with a response. “This is a man who gave 30 percent of his income to charity, more than the two of us combined,” he said of the man at the top of the Republican ticket. “Mitt Romney’s a good man. He cares about 100 percent of Americans in this country. And with respect to that quote, I think the vice president very well knows that sometimes the words don’t come out of your mouth the right way.”
The serial disagreements started immediately after the smiles and handshakes of the opening.
Ryan said in the debate’s opening moments that U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens had been denied sufficient security by administration officials. Stevens died in a terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi on Sept. 11.
“Not a single thing he said is accurate,” Biden shot back.
Both the president and Romney campaigned in battleground states during the day before ceding the spotlight to their political partners for the evening.
“I thought Joe Biden was terrific tonight. I could not be prouder of him,” Obama told reporters after watching the debate aboard Air Force One.
Likewise, Romney called Ryan and congratulated him on his performance, a campaign spokesman said.
Obama and Romney hold their next debate on Tuesday in Hempstead, N.Y, then meet again on Oct. 22 in Boca Raton, Fla.
— Associated Press