Vice President Joe Biden has bought himself a controversy boomlet after briefly commenting on China's draconian one-child-per-family policy without strenuously condemning it, or single-handedly putting an end to it, or something. Here's your latest, greatest "Biden gaffe," which occurred on Sunday when he was trying to explain, to China, what the super committee (your latest, greatest, "America gaffe") is and will do.
What we ended up doing is setting up a system whereby we did cut by $1.2 trillion upfront, the deficit over the next 10 years. And we set up a group of senators that have to come up with another $1.2 to $1.7 trillion in savings or automatically there will be cuts that go into effect in January to get those savings. So the savings will be accomplished. But as I was talking to some of your leaders, you share a similar concern here in China. You have no safety net. Your policy has been one which I fully understand -- I'm not second-guessing -- of one child per family. The result being that you're in a position where one wage earner will be taking care of four retired people. Not sustainable.
So hopefully we can act in a way on a problem that's much less severe than yours, and maybe we can learn together from how we can do that.
Biden "understands" the policy, it seems. As does everyone! China permits each family to have one child, understand? He also says he's not "second guessing" it, but I don't know -- that whole part where he describes China's "safety net" as "not sustainable" because it results in "one wage earner...taking care of four retired people," which contrasts with the United States in such a way that it makes our "problem...less severe than yours," certainly seems like he is, on some level, doing some "second guessing."
But if you were wondering what it would take to get GOP 2012 frontrunner Mitt Romney to emerge from his tortoise shell and briefly start campaigning for president again, it's China's one-child-per-family policy. His campaign issued the following statement on Tuesday: "China's one-child policy is gruesome and barbaric. Vice President Biden's acquiescence to such a policy should shock the conscience of every American. Instead of condoning the policy, Vice President Biden should have condemned it in the strongest possible terms. There can be no defense of a government that engages in compulsory sterilization and forced abortions in the name of population control."
Romney has a point, of course, in that the policy is "gruesome and barbaric." So, Biden should have really let the Sichuan University students he was talking with have it. (I mean, beyond pointing out that the policy was resulting in an unsustainable situation where China's safety net was much worse off than the one in the United States.)
What's amusing about this kerfuffle is that everyone's missing the statement Biden made that truly is bizarre, which he made seconds before his glancing mention of China's one-child-per-family policy:
The bottom line is we have to deal with two elements of our economy. One is what we call entitlement programs -- long-term commitments to our people in the area of particularly Medicare. That is the safety net we have for people once they reach the age of 65 to be able to be assured that they have health care.
And it is not sustainable without some changes in large part because we had what we call a baby boom, which doesn't sound like much to Chinese -- 40 million people is not a big deal, I know. (Laughter.) But adding 40 million people to those who will benefit from the Medicare -- Medicaid payment -- Medicare payments has put the program in a position where changes have to be made.
It's easy to make those changes, and we had a tentative agreement to do that between the major political leaders of the Republican Party and the Democratic Party and the administration. But there is a group within the Republican Party that is a very strong voice now that did -- wanted different changes, and so that deal fell through at the very end.
Wait. So, if it weren't for the alluded-to Tea Party, making changes to entitlement programs are "easy?" Since when did entitlement programs stop being the "third rail in American politics?" Well, not to worry, because as Biden told the good students of Sichuan University, the super committee is on the case, and "the savings will be accomplished."
Of course, that's not what Biden told reporters two days later on Tuesday:
The new 12-member panel has "a shot of getting a deal that would be viewed by Wall Street, be viewed by everyone, be viewed by the international community as a significant alteration of a trajectory of long-term debt.... We still may end up with the trigger being pulled," Biden told reporters traveling aboard Air Force Two in Asia. Reaching a deal will be "very difficult," he added.
The fact that one can no longer discern when reforming entitlements was easy and when it was difficult and whether or not the super committee is more likely to make things better or worse is a measure of just how awesomely dysfunctional our system has become. Fortunately, we have an easier-to-grapple-with "Biden gaffe" to distract us!
UPDATE: Apparently, Biden spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff emailed a statement to the Daily Caller's Caroline May:
"The Obama Administration strongly opposes all aspects of China's coercive birth limitation policies, including forced abortion and sterilization," Biden's spokeswoman Kendra Barkoff told The Daily Caller in an email. "The Vice President believes such practices are repugnant."
Barkoff explained that Biden was attempting to critique the restrictive system with his comments.
"He also pointed out, in China, that the policy is, as a practical matter, unsustainable," Barkoff added. "He was arguing against the One Child Policy to a Chinese audience. "
Right, I actually noticed that "Biden was attempting to critique the restrictive system with his comments," after I read his comments, discovered that they were written in a language in which I was fluent, and then used what I learned about that language's grammar to determine the meaning of those comments.