Tonight at Centre College in Danville, KY, Vice President Joe Biden squares off against Representative Paul Ryan in their one and only encounter on the national stage. Both domestic and foreign policy topics are on the agenda for the vice presidential debate. Heritage is streaming it live and has a team of experts reacting on our Debate 2012 page.

Heritage’s policy experts are closely following every word of the vice presidential debate between Vice President Biden and Representative Paul Ryan. They are reacting instantly to the wide range of policy issues being discussed. The following is a compilation of their analysis.

Wars Are Not Fought on a Timetable

The debate opened on foreign policy, and Vice President Biden came out swinging, commenting that the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens in Libya was a “tragedy,” and that the highest priority of President Obama was “caring for the national security of the country.” For the Vice President, that caring was best summed by killing Osama bin Laden, ending the war in Iraq, and putting a date of 2014 on the end of the war in Afghanistan.

All Americans can agree with the Vice President that the death of bin Laden was welcome. But wars are not fought on a timetable, and caring for national security means more than deciding unilaterally when they are going to end. It means spending the money necessary to provide strong national defenses — not falling into the disastrous trap of sequestration — and looking ahead to new threats, like the spread of ballistic missiles that make missile defense urgent, and cybersecurity a vital issue that requires thoughtful deliberation.

National security needs more than a two-minute response, but two seconds should be enough to reject the idea that way to protect the nation is to end wars on a schedule that only the United States will respect.

–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Energy Policy: Markets Work, Government “Investments” Do Not

Opening up our energy resources is key to bringing health back to America’s lagging economy. But a plan to allow the market to meet America’s energy demands must start with opening access to our country’s energy resources, not opening up Uncle Sam’s checkbook to bail out companies or artificially support politically preferred ones.

Government restrictions and regulations impede the market’s effectiveness in responding to changes in higher energy prices. When it comes to high gas prices, producers and consumers respond to changes in prices because these changes communicate information. As the price of oil goes up, producers explore and drill for more. Consumers will switch to more fuel efficient cars without federal mandates requiring them to do so. Higher fuel prices also provide the incentive to develop alternative fuel sources, whether it is electricity, biofuels, natural gas or propane.

Government investments — using taxpayer dollars to subsidize politically preferred technologies and companies — retard that process. Energy subsidies establish a relationship between lobbyists and policymakers that results in industry dependence and technological stagnation.  Artificially lowering the cost of a technology by having the taxpayer foot part of the bill creates an atmosphere in which that company will continue to rely on the taxpayer’s help, reducing the incentive to innovate and lower costs. This is detrimental to the long-term success alternative sources of energy because it allows companies and technologies that should be allowed to fail to linger in the marketplace and waste labor and capital that could be better allocated elsewhere in the economy.

Markets work to meet our electricity and fuel demands, and will continue to do so if we create the right framework to allow the market to work. But energy subsidies have not and will not work.

–Nicolas Loris, Herbert and Joyce Morgan Fellow, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Bankruptcy, Not Bailout, Was the Right Path for GM

Vice President Biden criticized Governor Mitt Romney for saying General Motors should go bankrupt. But that is exactly what happened — GM and Chrysler did go bankrupt. But the administration didn’t stop there — it nationalized the firms. Taxpayers are still some $25 billion in the hole, and still owns a quarter of the shares of GM. Bankruptcy was the right solution, bailout was not.

–James Gattuso, Senior Research Fellow in Regulatory Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Biden Misleads on Budget Cut to Libya Embassy

Vice President Biden claims that Representative Paul Ryan’s budget is partly responsible for the failures of security that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans, saying that “The Congressman here cut embassy security in his budget by $300 million below what we ask for.” But as Heritage expert Brett Schaefer pointed out on The Foundry:

Overall funding for those programs has increased sharply over the past decade. Indeed, Worldwide Security Protection is more than double what it was a decade ago. Despite reductions from budget peaks in FY 2009 and FY 2010, both budget lines are higher than in FY 2008 . . . Moreover, the State Department has considerable latitude in allocating security funds based on current events and intelligence on possible threats. Why that latitude was not applied in Libya deserves further scrutiny.

Moreover, the United States has not actually adopted a budget — let alone Ryan’s budget — in more than three years. So it is hard to see how the appropriations process since 2010 is the appropriate place to start looking for the failures that led to the death of Stevens and his colleagues. The problems run deeper than that.

–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

We Must Reform Entitlements

One of the most important debates is entitlement spending.

The government’s spending problem is mainly an entitlement problem — a problem of the American spirit as well as fiscal policy. The growth of entitlements has lured more and more Americans into dependency on the government, draining the self-reliance and initiative that made America exceptional. It is one thing to maintain a reasonable safety net for those experiencing difficult times. It is quite another to ensnare growing numbers of Americans in the false belief that the government can and should “take care” of them.

Federal entitlements have transformed government into a huge mechanism for transfer payments, redistribution, that does nothing to sustain growth. Entitlements have grown from less than half of total federal outlays just 20 years ago to nearly 62 percent in this year. Three major programs — Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security — dominate in size and growth, soaking up about 44 percent of the budget. All three programs are growing faster than inflation, and — when joined with $1.7 trillion in new Obamacare spending — will drain about 18.5 percent of the nation’s total economic output by mid-century. Because that is about the historical annual average of total federal tax revenue, it means all other government programs — national defense, veterans health care, transportation, and federal law enforcement, and others — would effectively have to be financed on borrowed money.

The longer Congress and the President ignore these problems, the more wrenching the solutions will be. Policymakers must act now.

–Patrick Louis Knudsen, Grover M. Hermann Senior Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

An Economy With Its Wheels Spinning

Representative Paul Ryan rightly points out the sluggish economic growth the United States has experienced recently. The unemployment rate is still outlandishly high, and GDP has grown at a crawling rate. It is hardly the recovery Americans were assured would result from federal stimulus spending. That’s all the more reason not to double down on tax hikes on Americans or propose even more government spending. The economy needs to be free from the threat of Taxmageddon and other tax hikes, and Washington needs to curb its spending problem.

–Emily Goff, Research Associate, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Iran and Responses to Its Nuclear Programs

Vice President Biden and Representative Ryan were asked about the potential effects of a military strike on Iran. Ryan took the opportunity to lay out a detailed account of dealing credibly with Iran. Biden declared that the present sanctions are enough.

Ryan simply said that today Iran is four years closer to a bomb. Biden said they were closer to have bomb quality fissile material, but not closer to a bomb. One wonders how you do one without the other. The issues seems to be, are sanctions alone enough? The answer is no.

–Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow Defense & Homeland Security, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies

A Not-So-Balanced Approach

Vice President Biden echoed the all-too-familiar mantra that a so-called “balanced approach” is necessary to fix our spending and debt issues. Sounds fair, right? Except that the policy prescription he and President Obama advocate consists of more stimulus spending — disguised as critical investments, of course — plus massive tax hikes on high-income earners and small businesses, for starters. That’s a double whammy guaranteed to harm the economy.

When too much spending is the driver of deficits, why keep digging the hole deeper by increasing spending? All those stimulus dollars spent by the government is that much less money in the hands of businesses and investors in the private sector as well as families, which could use it more efficiently. And why threaten tax hikes on job creators, when the goal is more not less job creation? Taxmageddon’s threat and the barrage of tax hikes under Obamacare will bring have already induced businesses and investors into a lull marked by anxiety and certainty.

Biden’s “balanced” plan to achieve deficit reduction needs a whole-sale remake, not mere fine-tuning.

–Emily Goff, Research Associate, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Sanctions on Iran

In the second segment, on Iran, Representative Ryan urged the need for U.S. credibility — and strong sanctions — as a way to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear program. Vice President Biden’s response was dismissive, saying that the “entire world” would not have joined sanctions if they had been worked out by a Republican Congress.

But the sanctions that exist are by definition bipartisan: they passed both the House and the Senate. The need now is to stand firm on the sanctions, and to work vigorously to apply them and close loopholes. It would be wonderful if the “entire world” was indeed backing the sanctions, but given the enthusiasm with which China is building on its existing trade with Iran, the buy-in of the so-called international community is much less enthusiastic, and therefore unfortunately less important, than it needs to be.

–Ted R. Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Cuts to Medicare Advantage

Obamacare makes real cuts to Medicare Advantage — by $156 billion to be exact. According to the Medicare Actuary, by 2017, this will decrease Medicare Advantage enrollment by 50 percent and decrease benefits. Seniors haven’t felt these cuts because the Obama Administration has effectively hid them in a politically tricky move, but by 2014 these cuts will dramatically affect seniors access to care.

–Alyene Senger, Research Assistant, Center for Health Policy Studies

Terrorist Get a Vote, Too

The Vice Presidential debate took a quick tour over the landscape of transnational terrorism from Libya to Iraq to Afghanistan to Iran. So quick the American people might have missed no one bothered to explain where the war against transnational terrorism stands today.

The case is Libya is tragically all too clear. Al Qaeda affiliates have established a base in the country.

In Iraq, the AP recently reported that since the US “ended” the war, the number of al Qaeda in the country has doubled.

Iran remains one of the world’s most notorious state sponsors of terrorism.

The Taliban and other affiliates are threatening the stability of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Whoever holds the Oval office in January they are going to have to deal with a significant transnational terrorism threat. The current US strategy is just not up to the task.

–James Jay Carafano, Deputy Director, The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, and Director, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies

What Is Obama-Biden Plan for Social Security?

Vice President Biden opposes Social Security reforms proposed in past years by Rep. Paul Ryan, but what do they propose to do about a program that faces 25 percent across-the-board benefit cuts in just over 20 years?

Paul Ryan has consistently had the courage to face Social Security’s rapidly approaching financial crisis. However, the Obama Administration has had just about nothing to say on the subject, a silence that has lasted almost four years. For instance, back in June 2011, we said that

“In his [2011] State of the Union Address, the President called for a bipartisan solution, but then he effectively took everything except raising taxes off the table. Unfortunately for the President, increasing taxes just delays major across-the-board benefit cuts—it does not prevent them.”

Then Obama’s head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Jack Lew, declared in an June 2011 op-ed that fixing Social Security should not be part of discussions about this country’s deficit problems because “Social Security benefits are entirely self-financing.” In discussing the diversion of federal tax money to repay the bonds in the Social Security trust fund, Lew asserted that, “Now that we are paying Social Security back, the problem is not with Social Security, but with the rest of the budget.”

The fact is that Social Security is in deep trouble.

As the 2012 Social Security trustees said: “Lawmakers should not delay addressing the long-run financial challenges facing Social Security and Medicare,” the trustees wrote. “If they take action sooner rather than later, more options and more time will be available to phase in changes so that the public has adequate time to prepare.”

Doing nothing means that all recipients will see a 25 percent benefit cut in less than 20 years.

If the President won’t respond to a direct question before millions of viewers, we can only assume that either he has no plan, or that he does not believe that this is a problem.

–David C. John, Senior Research Fellow, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Expand Commercial Nuclear Trade to Help U.S. Economy

Vice President Biden and Representative Ryan have both talked about the how to inject health into the U.S. economy. Key to America’s nuclear industry is continuing good relations with one of our greatest trade partners, South Korea. Because the nuclear industry is an international one, many American nuclear jobs rely on continuing good trade relationships.

Completing the U.S. –Korea commercial nuclear trade agreement (123 agreement) extension, which expires in March 2014, would be a significant contribution to this end, especially as more and more countries around the world are building or strongly considering bringing on more nuclear energy. The problem is that the U.S. and Korea disagree about the technologies, specifically enrichment and reprocessing that should be allowed under the agreement.  Though these advanced technologies are sensitive, Korea rightly contends that without access, especially to reprocessing, it will be at a disadvantage in the global commercial nuclear marketplace. Given the historic relationship between the two nations and South Korea’s record on non-proliferation, there is no reason for the U.S. and South Korea not to work out a resolution.

It is critical for the U.S., and here is why:

It promotes good relations. Absent a 123 agreement, Korea would have no choice but to seek alternative trading relationships with nations like Russia, China, and France.  Completing the negotiation, however, would buttress the already strong U.S.-ROK alliance.

It promotes U.S. jobs through trade. South Korea wants to build close to 20 reactors and export many more over the next 20 years.  Extending the 123 will ensure that U.S. companies can compete for that work.

It promotes U.S. interests. The U.S. maintains substantial influence over Korea’s export activities because of the current 123 agreement. Maintaining this will be critical as Korea competes to provide nuclear products to nations like Vietnam, Turkey, Jordan, and Indonesia that are beginning to pursue commercial nuclear programs.

Finalizing a strong 123 agreement that gives South Korea access to the technology that it needs to be competitive in a way that advances nonproliferation interests is possible.  But success will depend on the U.S. treating South Korea like the ally with a strong nonproliferation record that it is.

–Jack Spencer, Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Energy Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

We Need Tax Reform

The purpose of tax reform is growth. Lower tax rates encourage productive activities like working, saving, investing, and taking risk. It does that by lowering tax rates and making other pro-growth changes to the tax code. There is bipartisan agreement we need tax reform.

Higher tax rates, in contrast, would discourage productive behavior and make it harder for the sluggish economy to recover and make it harder to put millions of unemployed Americans back to work.

–Curtis Dubay, Senior Policy Analyst, Tax Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Time to End Renewable Energy Mandates for Armed Forces

Both Vice President Biden and Representative Ryan have voiced support for a strong national defense and the need to keep our military strong. But President Obama and his administration have not put their money where their mouth is. While the Department of Defense is facing the largest percentage of sequestration cuts, it is also being pressured to spend money where it is least effective in protecting the American people.

One cut to the Defense budget should be to abolish the military’s renewable energy mandates and objectives, such as the requirement to produce 25 percent of its power by renewable sources by 2025. Such requirements cause the Pentagon to expend an increasing amount of its resources on renewable energy rather than on increasing capability. Plus, mandates undermine the incentive for renewable energy producers to provide competitively priced products, thus actually impeding the ultimate availability of oil alternatives.

Some misplaced justifications for the mandate include:

Price Fluctuations. Multiple complex variables contribute to fuel prices. Not only is the government the wrong institution to sort them out but it is also unwise to force inflexible quotas regardless of the cost.

Supply Chain Vulnerability. Transporting liquid fuels over long distances and through war zones can be dangerous and the U.S. armed forces should decrease that threat. However, pursuing biofuels for environmental reasons under the pretext of safer transportation is disingenuous because biofuels need to be transported just like oil.

Dependence on Foreign Oil. U.S. consumers (civilian and military) can enjoy access to inexpensive foreign energy without being dependent on any particular supplier by opening access to foreign and domestic supplies. If supplies were cut off, the U.S. could simply meet its demand from other sources.

Oil products may be expensive, but they are the least expensive and most efficient option currently available. Forcing the military to purchase moreexpensive alternatives would leave fewer resources for training, modernization, and recapitalization, resulting is a less capable military.

–Jack Spencer, Senior Research Fellow, Nuclear Energy Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Obama Tax Hike Would Devastate Jobs

Vice President Biden discussed President Obama’s plan to raise the top two marginal tax rates. If that were to occur, the economy would create 710,000 fewer jobs according the accounting firm Ernst & Young. Jobs would suffer badly because, even though the Vice President said only 3 percent would pay those higher rates, those 3 percent are the biggest, most successful small businesses that do all the hiring. The Ernst & Young study found the Obama tax hike would devastate jobs because those businesses that would pay the higher rates employ 54 percent of the private workforce.

On the other hand, tax reform like Governor Romney and Chairman Ryan propose, would lower rates to encourage growth and do so without reducing revenue or shifting the tax burden from high income taxpayers to middle income families. Even the Tax Policy Center, which is the group President Obama and Vice President Biden cite to criticize the Romney tax plan, does not claim the Romney plan would reduce revenue – nevermind by $5 trillion.

–Curtis Dubay, Senior Policy Analyst, Tax Policy, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

The $6,400 Question

The allegation that premium support in Medicare would cost seniors over $6,400 more is both wrong and misleading. Heritage expert Rea Hederman explains, “[T]his dollar amount is incorrect, and the charge is erroneous. Such false charges are based on an outdated Congressional Budget Office (CBO) model of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s (R–WI) 2011 budget proposal.” In fact, under Ryan’s current proposal, a senior would be guaranteed at least two health plans whose premiums meet 100 percent of the contribution amount. Read the facts.

Heritage expert Bob Moffit explains, “There is no major Medicare reform proposal, including the Ryan proposal, that would issue future senior citizens a voucher (a certificate or coupon or a check for a fixed dollar amount).” Under premium supporet, the government provides a direct payment from a government account to a health plan of a person’s choice, including traditional Medicare. Under premium support, plans would all have to meet government standards and provide at least the benefits of traditional Medicare. See how Ryan’s plan compares to the Heritage Foundation’s premium support proposal.

Medicare’s trust fund is projected to be bankrupt by 2024 and over the long-term the program has made $37 trillion worth of benefit promises to seniors that aren’t funded. Despite these serious problems, Obamacare cuts Medicare by $716 billion over the next 10 years and uses the “savings” to fund new spending in Obamacare.

–Alyene Senger, Research Assistant, Center for Health Policy Studies

Saving the American Dream

After Iran, the debate moved, as debate moderator Martha Raddatz put it, to a “different kind of national security issue” — the economy. Raddatz was entirely right to put it that way. You can be a liberal or a conservative, a Republican or a Democrat, but it is impossible to believe that the United States can continue, over the long run, to lead in the world, to meet its national security responsibilities, to protect its allies, its interests, and its ideals, if its economy continues to grow slowly and the budget is consumed by entitlement spending.

A strong economy is not just vital for our prosperity: it is vital for our security. Unfortunately, after Raddatz’s well-crafted introduction, neither candidate made the connection she seemed to be hoping for, with both of them presenting their respective views on tax and economic policy. But as Heritage’s “Saving the American Dream” plan points out, fiscal responsibility needs to go hand in hand with international responsibility.

–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

Sequestration Responsibility Is Deigned

Who is to “blame” for the looming sequestration cuts is an object of discussion. The bottom line is that the cuts will badly hurt Defense readiness and all solutions are being ignored. The Joints Chiefs of Staff and the Secretary of Defense have declared more cuts as disastrous, but some would say they are happy with them. These cuts must be forestalled.

The Senate Majority Leader has refused to even consider a solution to this impasse if it did NOT contain massive tax increases which he knows he cannot get passed in the Congress. In fact, only the House has really offered a viable potential solution. It should be considered. This should not be a backdoor to tax increases.

–Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow Defense & Homeland Security, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies

How to Do Deficit Reduction the Right Way

During this debate as well as the last Presidential debate much time was spent discussing tax plans, in particular how they would impact high-income earners. However, if we are serious about reducing the deficit and debt, lawmakers need to turn toward reforming the entitlements, like Medicare and Social Security. These are the main drivers of federal spending and debt.

One tough choice lawmakers should make, which would strengthen programs like Medicare and Social Security as a safety net while protecting our younger generations from unbearable debt burdens, is to adjust benefits for income. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan mentioned such reforms for Medicare during the debate.

Defined contributions for Medicare beneficiaries would be adjusted for income, meaning premium support payments would be higher for less-affluent seniors than they would be for more-affluent seniors.

Medicare and Social Security benefits should be targeting those who need them the most. By slowly reducing benefits for those who are earning high incomes in retirement, lawmakers can make Social Security and Medicare more affordable and strengthen these programs to also protect future seniors from poverty in retirement.

–Romina Boccia, Research Coordinator, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Obama’s Budget Made Our Fiscal Problems Worse

The President’s budget for fiscal year 2013 not only failed to face up to the nation’s fiscal challenges, it made them worse. As analyzed by the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO), spending in the President’s budget was $1.15 trillion higher over 2013-2022. Roughly half of the increase came from policy changes, and the other half from increased interest payments due to chronic deficit spending. The President’s record total spending would remain higher than 22 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) throughout the decade, “well above the 21.0 percent average seen over the past 40 years,” CBO says.

The combination of policies in the President’s budget produces cumulative deficits of $6.4 trillion through 2022, $3.5 trillion more than CBO’s baseline – sharply different from the more than $5 trillion in deficit reduction the President’s budget claimed. Yet the President’s sole response to this crisis is to raise taxes. He ignored the recommendations of his own deficit reduction panel, the Bowles-Simpson Commission, and has offered no plan to reverse the devastating across the board spending cuts scheduled to start in January—instead insisting that Congress must find an answer. Congress does indeed need to respond—but so does the President.

–Patrick Louis Knudsen, Grover M. Hermann Senior Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Pull Out Timing In Afghanistan

What is the trigger for a U.S. military draw down in Afghanistan? Is it an assessment of the tactical and political situation on the ground? Or is it an arbitrary decision that then “forces” the Afghans to step up? Apparently the military is completely to blame for all the timing issues in Afghanistan. They are reputed to have requested this arrangement.

This sort of wishful thinking may be make one feel justified in walking away from a commitment, but it does not constitute good strategic thought and planning. There must be a return to good solid planning that avoids wishful thinking.

–Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow Defense & Homeland Security, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies

American Energy Jobs, Not Government Jobs

President Obama’s record has not offered much in the way of creating real jobs in the energy sector. Rather than keeping markets open, President Obama has waged a regulatory war against America’s abundant energy resources while artificially stimulating politically preferred ones. On the one hand President Obama and his administration have crippled the coal industry with outrageous regulation, choked the oil industry by closing the greater part of federal lands to production, and preventing thousands of American jobs by denying the construction of the Keystone Pipeline. But with the other, President Obama has significantly increased energy spending with wasteful programs that have artificially supported politically preferred technologies.

If an energy source is not economically competitive, then the government should not artificially prop up those jobs and energy sources to create a market that wouldn’t exist without the subsidy. This wastes taxpayer dollars and sets back innovation by distorting energy investment allocations. In a free market, these resources would flow toward the most promising technologies, not to those with the most political support. Key to American jobs and American energy are open markets free of government supports and unnecessarily burdensome regulation.

Getting more jobs means releasing Americans’ hard work and ingenuity from government burdens or turning them into jobs dependent on the taxpayer’s dollar.

–Katie Tubb, Research Assistant, Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

Ryan: Don’t Lose Gains in Afghanistan

Representative Ryan was crystal clear that the United States should not lose the gains made in Afghanistan over the last decade and must ensure the Taliban cannot regain influence there. By contrast, Vice President Biden staunchly defended the administration’s commitment to withdraw all combat forces by the end of 2014, but failed to explain how the United States would ensure Afghanistan does not again become a safe haven for terrorists intent on attacking the United States.

It is misleading for Biden to maintain that the only U.S. interest in Afghanistan is the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In reality, U.S. national security is inextricably linked to the future of Afghanistan. If the United States turns its back on Afghanistan, as it did in 1989, the Taliban are likely to regain influence, providing a boost to Islamist extremists throughout the world and an opportunity for al-Qaeda to revive itself. The truth is the United States will have to remain engaged in Afghanistan diplomatically, economically, and militarily through counterterrorism missions and training long after 2014.

Unfortunately, any discussion of Afghanistan by President Obama over the last year has focused mainly on troop withdrawal schedules, rather than inspiring confidence in U.S. strategy and showing commitment to U.S. goals in the region.

Not only did the Obama Administration err in announcing the beginning of U.S. troop withdrawals back in December 2009, before U.S. surge forces had even been deployed, it also has fumbled the handling of peace talks with the Taliban. The administration has been more intent on striking a deal with the Taliban in order to justify troop withdrawals, than on using the option of negotiations as a tool to moderate the Taliban’s behavior and bring them into a political process. The administration came close to releasing five top Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay Prison earlier this year as a “confidence building measure” without any reciprocal gesture from the Taliban, such as renouncing al-Qaeda and agreeing to participate in a normal political process. This would have been a disastrous and unmerited concession to the Taliban.

While the challenges in Afghanistan are immense, and Americans are war-weary, Ryan’s honesty about the importance of the mission to vital U.S. national security interests was welcome.

–Lisa Curtis, Senior Research Fellow, Asian Studies Center

First Debate Mention of HHS Mandate Collision with First Freedom

Debate tonight turned to the protecting of Americans’ first freedom from the Obamacare Health and Human Services (HHS) preventative services mandate. The HHS mandate requires nearly all employers to cover abortion drugs, contraception, and sterilization regardless of moral or religious objections, effectively exempting only formal houses of worship. More than 100 plaintiffs have already been forced to go to court in an attempt to escape the coercive rule and protect their religious freedom.

The anti-conscience mandate is unprecedented and unconstitutional, and it is only an early warning sign of how one-size fits all health care requirements will trample on religious liberty as well as individual liberty. It should be a warning sign to Americans that one of the first parts of Obamacare to be implemented will force employers with religious and moral convictions to violate their consciences.

To protect all Americans’ religious liberty, and freedom generally, Obamacare must be repealed. Health care reform that reduces cost, increases access, and protects conscience and respects life is possible.

Policymakers should understand the primacy of religious freedom in the American constitutional order and work to protect that freedom, not undermine it.

–Sarah Torre, Research Assistant, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society

Stand Firm on Iran

As the debate on Iran continued, a theme emerged, and was rightly commented on by the debate’s moderator, ABC News Senior Foreign Correspondent Martha Raddatz: “You are acting like they don’t want [a nuclear weapon],” she said to Vice President Biden. The Vice President’s response was quick: “All of this loose talk about them” is “not true,” pointing out that it takes more to make a deliverable nuclear weapon than enhanced uranium.

The Vice President is right about that. But the net effect of his remarks is to make action on Iran seem less urgent. And regrettably, U.S. intelligence on Iran has been far less reliable than he acknowledges: only in 2009 did the United States discover the existence of a large covert uranium enrichment facility at Fordow.

The problem with optimism about the pace of the Iranian nuclear program — the Vice President would likely describe it as realism — is that, if he is wrong, the United States will be caught flat-footed again when Iran goes nuclear. Being pessimistic about Iran is not the answer either — the best way forward is to acknowledge that when dealing with dictatorships, you need to stand firm.

–Ted Bromund, Senior Research Fellow in Anglo-American Relations, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

The Importance of Judges

Representative Paul Ryan and Vice President Biden talked about the importance of judges in this election and the likelihood that the next president will appoint one or more Supreme Court justices. They are right. The future of the Supreme Court does hang in the balance.

One vote may well change the court’s constitutional rulings on a host of issues that are critical to Americans who value freedom, including gun rights, the death penalty, private property rights, free speech, the free exercise of religion, and health care. If one constitutionalist justice leaves the Supreme Court and is replaced by a liberal judicial activist, our lives will be very different. President Obama’s commitment to appointing “empathy” judges who will rule according to what is in their (liberal) hearts rather than what the law requires is well known, and it is not consistent with our founding document.

The Constitution contains many important principles, but the most important is devotion to the rule of law. The law is not an infinitely malleable tool. Judges should aim to discern and apply the original public meaning of the constitutional text at issue, rather than read into the words whatever they want them to mean.

When judges contort the text of the Constitution to reach a preferred policy result, they substitute their own judgment for that of the people’s representatives — the legislature or the Framers — and subvert fundamental concepts of ordered governance. Activist judges reject these principles, denigrating those constitutional rights with which they disagree, while making up others. The future of liberty depends on America reclaiming its constitutional first principles and the imperative of the rule of law.

–John Malcolm, Senior Legal Fellow, Center for Legal and Judicial Studies

Readiness Must Remain an Issue

Sequestration and other defense cuts cannot be ignored. It is imperative that our nation’s leaders never forget that they have a duty to provide for the Common Defense. Cavalierly allowing the already atrophied defense capabilities of America to whither further is completely unacceptable.

It is not responsible to hold defense hostage to new tax hikes that do not have the votes in Congress to pass normally.

America’s readiness is at the edge: smallest Army since before the Second World War, smallest Navy since before the First World War, and the smallest Air Force ever. The Leaders of the nation owe the American People better than this.

–Steven Bucci, Senior Research Fellow Defense & Homeland Security, Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign Policy Studies

Respecting Life and Religious Liberty

The American model of religious liberty takes a strongly positive view of religious practice, both private and public. That includes the freedom to practice one’s faith at one’s home, place of worship, and work. Individuals and institutional religious liberty should be respected in law and protected from unnecessary government burden. Representative Ryan articulated that view on religious liberty in criticizing the HHS mandate.

That’s not the only Obamacare policy colliding with religious liberty. Policymakers would do well to close the seams in the patchwork of existing federal conscience protections by making them permanent. They can start by repealing Obamacare, with its many conscience-crushing, abortion-funding provisions.

The Declaration of Independence affirms life among humanity’s  “unalienable Rights.” This most basic human freedom should be protected in public policy both on domestic fronts and in our international relations. Whether ensuring that a bright line is drawn between taxpayer funds and abortion providers or demanding an end to coercive policies that kill girls simply because they’re female, the U.S. should be a leader in defending and promoting the basic human right to life. Rep. Ryan contributed an essay on life to Heritage’s Indivisible series.

–Sarah Torre, Research Assistant, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society

About that Education Spending

The fleeting references to education spending in tonight’s debate didn’t shed much light on the subject, so here’s some more detail. The budget passed by the House of Representatives makes no specific cuts to K-12 education programs. Rather, it lays out cuts to non-defense discretionary spending over the next decade.

However, the House’s budget plan would be a step forward in getting education spending under control. Decades of increased federal spending have failed to help American students. When Obama took office in 2009, the education budget was at $67 billion. Today, it’s nearly $70 billion. Add to that the $100 billion that went to the Department of Education as part of the stimulus package, the $10 billion education jobs bailout in 2010, and the proposed $60 billion supplemental education spending in the President’s Blueprint for Education Reform.

While federal education spending has more than doubled since the 1970s, academic achievement and graduation rates have stagnated. Instead of pouring more taxpayer dollars into failed education programs rife with red tape, states must be empowered to use their education dollars as they see fit.

–Rachel Sheffield, Research Associate, Domestic Policy Studies

“We Believe in Opportunity and Upward Mobility”

Representative Paul Ryan could not have summed up the argument for economic freedom and limited government more clearly and concisely than when he stated: “We believe in opportunity and upward mobility.” This belief, which is at the heart of the American Dream, grows out of our founding principles.

It’s perhaps no surprise then that Ryan was the only one to invoke these principles. “We will not replace our founding principles, we will re-apply our founding principles,” he explained, thereby countering the progressive trope that we somehow need to move beyond our principles.

–David Azerrad, Associate Director, B. Kenneth Simon Center for Principles and Politics

A Question of Self-Evident Truth

Are all human beings created equal and endowed by their creator with inalienable rights—including the right to life? Our nation was founded on the proposition that the answer to this question is a self-evident truth: the proposition is accessible to all.

Enacting public policy in keeping with these truths is not a matter of illicitly imposing one’s religion on others, as Vice President Biden seemed to imply. It’s a matter of crafting human law that accords with the natural law. In other words, it’s a demand of political justice.

–Ryan T. Anderson, William E. Simon Fellow, DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society