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Debate Question for Paul Ryan: Which of Mitt's Many Sides Are You On? | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Debate Question for Paul Ryan: Which of Mitt's Many Sides Are You On?

The inconvenient truth about this year’s Republican ticket is that Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan disagree.

A lot.

The substantive differences between Romney and Ryan on issues ranging from tax policy to entitlement reform to reproductive rights are jarring. And they provide the outline that Vice President Joe Biden would be wise to focus on as he debates Ryan tonight.

Biden goes into this critical debate looking not just for Ryan’s soft spots—of which there are many—but also for ways in which to slow whatever momentum the Republican ticket gained after Mitt Romney turned in a stronger than expected performance in last week’s presidential debate.

It’s possible to do both by noting the many, many areas where Ryan and Romney—at least the version of Romney that’s currently on the campaign trail—are in stark disagreement.

For instance:

Last week, Ryan appeared on Fox News with Chris Wallace, who asked, &rldquo;What’s more important to Romney? Would he scale back on the 20 percent tax cut for the wealthy? Would he scale back and say, OK, you know, we’re going to have to raise taxes for the middle class? I guess the question is what’s most important to him in his tax reform plan?”

RYAN: Keeping tax rates down. By lowering tax rates, people keep more of the next dollar that they earn. That matters…

WALLACE: So that’s more important than…

RYAN: That’s more important than anything.

Cutting taxes for the rich is “more important than anything.”

More important than creating jobs.

More important than renewing manufacturing.

More important than maintaining Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

More important that reducing deficits.

More important than addressing debts.

“More important than anything.”

Cool.

That’s where Romney-Ryan stand.

Right?

No, not so right.

At least, not according to Mitt Romney tell it in the debate on Wednesday.

When the subject of tax cuts for the rich came up, Romney announced: “I’m not going to reduce the share of taxes paid by high-income people…”

Hold it: Isn’t cutting those taxes “more important than anything”?

Not according to Mitt. In fact, he says he’s not that into tax cuts.

“I’m not looking to cut massive taxes and to reduce the—the revenues going to the government,” Romney said during the first presidential debate. “My—my number-one principle is there’ll be no tax cut that adds to the deficit.”

If anything, the differences between Romney and Ryan are even greater on questions of preserving Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Want to see how great? Ask Romney if he support’s Ryan’s plans with regard to those issues. His standard answer is: “I have my own plan.” But, but… does he support the Ryan plan? And if Ryan now supports the ill-defined and constantly-changing Romney “plan,” why does he think it’s better than his detailed and carefully costed “Roadmap for America’s Future”?

But where Romney and Ryan really differ is on the issue of reproductive rights. Romney was once ardently pro-choice—announcing as a Massachusetts candidate that “abortion should be safe and legal in this country.” But as he began preparing a presidential run, Romney shifted position. Through much of this campaign, he’s presented himself as anti-choice. But, Romney was (at least sometimes) saying: “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother.” That has never been Ryan’s position; he has throughout his long political career taken a hard-line stance on exceptions, claiming that “the health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it.”

This week, chasm between Romney and Ryan on this most fundamental of American issues grew—even if Ryan refused to admit it publicly.

Romney took a whole new position on reproductive rights, telling the Des Moines Register editorial board that:“There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.”

That’s not what Ryan thinks. He’s a sponsor of a stack of congressional legislation that’s been proposed and sometimes passed with the purpose of restricting access to abortion. “Legislation with regards to abortion” is very much “part of (Ryan’s agenda.) Ryan’s a hero of anti-choice campaigners who want to enact a constitutional amendment to overturn the US Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

So what was Ryan’s response to the Romney statement? Confronted by reporters in Florida, the hapless vice presidential nominee announced: ”Our position is unified. Our position is consistent and hasn’t changed.”

Well, of course that is not the case.

Ryan is spinning, so fast that what he says sounds like a deliberate attempt to confuse voters.

But in tonight’s debate there will be more than enough time to cut through the confusion and to reveal one of the most jarring truths of this year’s election: Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan say different things, and they believe different things.

It is in the examination of their differences that Romney’s on-every-side-of-every-issue approach is exposed. When Biden and Ryan debate, the vice president should ask his Republican challenger: “Which side are you on?”

Or, better yet, which of Mitt’s many sides are you on?

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