Joe Biden came ready to talk taxes during Thursday’s vice presidential debate, charging at Paul Ryan full speed over his campaign’s vague answers as to how they would pay for a 20 percent tax cut across all income brackets that nonpartisan analysts claim is mathematically unworkable.
Moderator Martha Raddatz began by pressing Ryan on the issue, saying he’s “refused to offer specifics” on how he would pay for the cuts.
Ryan responded that “we want to have a big bipartisan agreement” and would work out the details later, citing Ronald Reagan’s 1986 reforms as a model.
“We want to work with Congress on how best to achieve this,” he said.
“Let me have a chance to translate,” Biden said. “I was there when Ronald Reagan [negotiated tax reform]. He gave specifics of what he was going to cut…in terms of tax expenditures.”
Biden cited recent studies showing that the only way to pay the $5 trillion for the tax package would be to cut tax deductions on mortgage payments and health care that benefit the middle class. He also suggested Romney was deliberately preserving loopholes, for example tax rules that affect investment income, to protect the wealthy.
“Governor Romney on 60 minutes, I guess it was about 10 days ago, was asked, governor, you pay 14% [taxes] on $20 million. Someone making $50,000 paid more than that. Do you think that is fair? He said, oh yes, that is fair,” Biden said. “You think these guys are going to go out there and cut those loopholes?”
Ryan insisted that the reforms could go forward without hurting the middle class.
“It has been done before,” he said.
“It has never been done before,” Biden shot back.
“Jack Kennedy — lower tax rates increased growth,” Ryan said.
“Oh, now you’re Jack Kennedy?” Biden said.
This post has been updated.
Benjy Sarlin is a reporter for Talking Points Memo and co-writes the campaign blog, TPM2012. He previously reported for The Daily Beast/Newsweek as their Washington Correspondent and covered local politics for the New York Sun.