Speaking at a fundraising dinner for Jefferson County Democrats on Saturday in Lakewood, Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden charged that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s failure to mention veterans or the war in Afghanistan during his acceptance speech in Tampa was no mere oversight but was “consistent” with what he termed the GOP ticket’s “outrageous” disregard for the country’s commitment to veterans.
Three days after nominating his father, Vice President Joe Biden, for a second term at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., Biden also accused Romney’s running mate, Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan, of being more concerned about cutting taxes for the very richest Americans than he was about funding the Veterans Administration. In an exclusive interview with The Colorado Statesman, Biden suggested the VA would lose $11 billion under a budget proposed earlier this year by Ryan, cuts he called “unconscionable.”
“This is at a time when our nation’s been at war on two fronts for a decade, one of which will be our longest war,” said Biden. “Fifty thousand wounded — just shy of that — and 6,512 killed in action. We’re at war right now, and to get up at a national party convention and not acknowledge the 2.3 million people, representing 0.75 percent of our society — ‘remarkable’ is putting it kindly.”
Biden, who serves in the Army National Guard’s Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was deployed in Iraq in 2008 and 2009, later told a crowd of roughly 400 attending the Jeffco Democrats’ annual Eleanor Roosevelt dinner that the Republican ticket has been ignoring veterans’ issues for some time.
“The Romney 59-point plan, the word ‘veteran’ is not mentioned once,” he said, referring to the GOP nominee’s plan for economic recovery. “The Ryan Budget, no mention of veterans. Mitt Romney’s website — he’s been running for president for at least five years, so he’s not new to the game, or the Internet — Mitt Romney’s website didn’t even mention veterans until about a month ago. It’s been online for at least a year. Consistent.”
Biden mocked Romney’s explanation for omitting any reference to the war in Afghanistan or to veterans in his convention speech, a criticism he noted was first leveled by conservative author and Fox News Channel contributor Bill Kristol.
Asked by Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier why his was the first GOP acceptance speech since 1952 not to mention an ongoing war, Romney replied, “When you give a speech, you don’t go through a laundry list. You talk about the things you think are important, and I described in my speech my commitment to a strong military, unlike the president’s decision to cut our military.”
“It’s outrageous. It’s inexplicable,” Biden told The Statesman, piling on criticism leveled by Democrats since Romney’s speech. “But if nothing else, Mr. Romney’s been consistent.”
At the DNC, Democrats staged salutes to the troops and to veterans, filling the arena with thousands of signs that read “Thank You,” and filling the air with cheers of “USA! USA!” as veterans crowded the stage.
A pair of Jim Beam commemorative ceramic whiskey bottles dating from the 1964 election preside over the silent auction. The bottles went to a lucky bidder for $35.
Biden said that the Romney-Ryan approach to veterans’ concerns compares unfavorably with the accomplishments of the Obama administration, which have included increased funding for veterans by more than any president in the last 30 years and making roughly 500,000 new veterans eligible for VA services.
President Obama, Biden said, has also “expanded other opportunities, in terms of tax credit for small businesses that hire veterans, the Post-9/11 GI Bill, which was passed in a bipartisan fashion, expanding education opportunities in higher education, to community colleges — where my mom teaches — to vocational training, to what I think is the coolest thing, as a veteran, is the transferability of those educational rights to your spouse or your children.”
Not only has Romney largely ignored veterans in his policy statements — other than to suggest privatizing the VA’s health care with a voucher system at an appearance on Veteran’s Day last year in South Carolina — but, by picking Ryan as his running mate, Biden said, Romney appears to be doubling down on an approach that could leave veterans out in the cold.
“He then chooses a candidate who is for vouchers in the context of Medicare. So there’s a consistency here. A further consistency is that the Romney-Ryan Budget, Paul Ryan’s budget, calls for between 18-20 percent cuts to just about everything other than that quote-unquote non-discretionary spending, defense,” Biden said. Taking the House Budget Committee chairman at his word, Biden said, that would mean as much as “an $11 billion cut to the VA in year one. I would think it striking that they didn’t mention it in the convention, but it’s consistent.”
While the Romney campaign has distanced itself somewhat from the so-called Ryan Budget — the 98-page document dated March 20, dubbed “The Path to Prosperity: A Blueprint for American Renewal,” proposes instituting a voucher system for future Medicare recipients and outlines massive spending cuts — Biden said voters should hold the Republicans to it.
“Don’t tell me what your priorities are, show me your budget — and your state legislators here will know this, because that’s what they do — don’t tell me what your priorities are, show me your budget, and I’ll tell you what your priorities are,” he told the Jeffco Democrats.
Biden said that Romney and Ryan’s plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the richest Americans after they are set to expire at the end of the year — a plan opposed by Obama and most Democrats — puts the Republicans’ priorities in stark relief.
Noting that $400 billion of the GOP-backed tax cuts would go to what he said were just 120,000 households, Biden frowned. “Here’s a guy who’s more interested in making sure that we give a tax break to 120,000 households — one of which I bet is Mitt Romney’s household — than he is to maintain the funding for the 0.75 percent of us who have served,” Biden said, referring to the portion of the population that has fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Biden, who had been scheduled to attend rallies that morning with veterans in Wheat Ridge and Fountain but whose flight to Colorado was delayed until Saturday afternoon, told Jeffco Democrats that the just-completed convention would propel the Obama-Biden ticket to victory the same way that the 2008 DNC had.
“We came out of Charlotte, I think, with as much energy as we came out of Denver — in many ways with a different kind of energy, with a different kind of resolve,” he said.
“We have a very stark choice to make on Nov. 6, and it was made more stark by the choice of Paul Ryan, right? No longer are they trying to sugarcoat what they’re all about. In 2000, George W. Bush and Karl Rove campaigned on this ticket of ‘compassionate conservatism.’ Now, we didn’t buy that then, but some folks did. And now we know better. Mitt Romney didn’t even try to fool us with those niceties — he calls himself a ‘severe conservative.’ Those are his words.”
Biden reserved most of his scathing criticism for Ryan, whose 14 years in Congress and recent leadership of some of the most conservative Republicans has left a record Biden said deserves scrutiny.
“What’s Paul Ryan concerned about? He’s a patriotic, good man,” Biden said. “I stipulate to that. But what are his priorities? What we hear him talking about and doing is consistent with what he did when he was in Congress.”
Biden got in a dig at Ryan, whose reputation as a fitness buff took a shellacking last week when it turned out Ryan hadn’t run a marathon nearly as fast as he had earlier told a radio host.
“I believe his math. I don’t believe his marathon times,” Biden said with a smile as the crowd broke up in laughter. “You know, those of you in the military, you know your PFT [Physical Fitness Test] score if you’re in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard — you know how fast you’ve run, you’re judged on it. It’s kind of remarkable to me he got confused, he thought he ran an Olympic-qualifying time of under three hours for the one marathon he ran. He continues to revise it upward, he’s around four hours now. My mom ran a marathon in about four hours, a little over four hours — I think my mom could take him.”
But Biden returned to the numbers that he said should matter to voters.
“I believe his math on the budget cut,” Biden said. “Eleven billion dollars in the face of what we know is the reality — a multigenerational commitment that we have to a generation that’s been at war for a decade. Ladies and gentlemen, it’s unconscionable, it’s unconscionable. But it’s consistent with what Paul Ryan and Mitt Romney have been focused on.”