10/13/2012 04:28 pm ET Updated Dec 13, 2012

The VP Debate Was Really About Congress

At the vice presidential debate, we witnessed a freshman college republican attempt and fail at debating the experienced tenured professor. While many -- except for Fox News -- will chalk this up as a victory for the VP, the importance of the debate goes beyond the VP slot. As much as Paul Ryan tried to mislead, omit, or obfuscate the positions of the Romney-Ryan ticket, the GOP record in Congress tells all the parts of the story that Ryan didn't.  Looking to congressional campaigns to fill in the blanks is relatively easy -- Ryan’s loyal lieutenants running for Congress make no bones about their agenda.

The vice presidential debate made clear to me that we need to look at Congressional races for the rest of the story. Here’s where this comes through most clearly:

1) Reason and Science: I found it interesting Paul Ryan said he came to his decision to be severely “pro-life,” through reason and science. Remember, this is the guy who co-sponsored several anti-choice bills with Mr. Todd “legitimate rape” Akin. In fact, it seems the more Republicans talk about choice, the more it exposes how detached from science they really are. The list of extreme right wingers like Paul Ryan, who abandon science to try and justify their antiquated anti-choice stance, keeps growing. Paul Ryan made it abundantly clear that a Romney-Ryan administration would be severely anti-choice.

What’s more important to note is that this severely anti-choice stance permeates down the ticket. As you may know, Paul Ryan and Todd Akin partnered with 221 other Republicans to introduce H.R. 3, the bill that tries to restrict access to abortion to cases of “forcible” rape. Even incumbents in districts that lean pro-choice, like Mike Fitzpatrick’s 8th Congressional District in Pennsylvania were co-sponsors of this bill. This congress dragged all of the moderates remaining in the GOP on a hard right turn to places where their constituents don’t want them to be. Moderates in the GOP essentially do not exist on this issue, not any more.

2) “We got to grow the economy from the middle out, not the top down”: You want Democrats to contrast their economic vision for the country with the Republicans’? Joe delivers, “You probably detected my frustration with their attitude about the American people. My friend says that 30 percent of the American people are takers. Romney points out 47 percent of the people won’t take responsibility. He’s talking about my mother and father. He’s talking about the places I grew up. … He’s talking about the people that built this country.” I am willing to bet there were a lot of people nodding their heads in agreement with that statement.

While Joe Biden showed his passion (and record) for fighting for America’s middle class, Paul Ryan doubled down on the principals laid out in his disastrous House budget. The Ryan budget would not only raise taxes on the middle class while simultaneously lowering them for the wealthiest Americans, but it would gut any investment needed to create a stronger future. We've seen how a trickle-down economy has failed us in the past and it's not going to do the trick this time either. As Joe Biden put it “we have to grow our economy from the middle out, not the top-down.”

These aren’t just points of rhetoric in a debate. During the 112th Congress, House Republicans had not one, but two chances to stand up for the middle class and vote against Paul Ryan’s extreme budget. Both times they overwhelmingly voted to stand with big corporations over the middle class. The budget was too extreme for maverick-y pseudo-libertarian Ron Paul. Not so much for so-called ‘moderates’ like Mary Bono-Mack in California, and Charlie Bass in New Hampshire. In fact, all of the incumbent opponents of our Dean Dozen candidates fell in line and voted for the Ryan budget not once, but twice. I have no doubt they’ll do it again if we give them the opportunity.

3) When we unite with our allies, America is more secure:  Paul Ryan doubled down on this ridiculous Republican notion that when we cooperate with our allies and strengthen relationships around the world it makes America weak. Reminiscent of the ‘Bush Doctrine’, this attitude has caused significant damage to our reputation abroad, and it that leaves us less secure. Also, was it just me, or was it abundantly clear that a Romney-Ryan administration would extend the length of the war in Afghanistan?

This was where Paul Ryan truly looked like some college Republican in freshman Intro to Political Science class -- spouting neo-con talking points. From Mitt’s Olympic sized gaffes while in London, to the campaign holding a press conference on Libya before all the information was available, Joe Biden had plenty of fodder, and he nailed this one:

“That’s not presidential leadership…. You know what else isn't presidential leadership? Attacking the Obama Administration for preparedness in Libya, when it was your own House GOP that voted to cut the Department of State’s security budget.”

Once again, every single one of our Dean Dozen opponents voted for this extreme right wing budget and would have left our nations diplomats even more exposed and in harm’s way. It’s time we vote this tea party majority out of Congress.

4) Paul Ryan cooking the books on Medicare: Paul Ryan’s line that the $716 billion in cost savings was taken to pay for Obamacare is an outright lie. This line of attack has been driving me crazy, as it’s simply not true. Those savings keep Medicare solvent through 2024 and, as Joe Biden finally pointed out, a repeal of Obamacare would bankrupt Medicare by 2016 (a.k.a. before the end of Romney’s first term). That’s not all Paul Ryan wants to change in Medicare.

Since the creation of Social Security and Medicare, we have seen the rate of seniors living in poverty plummet. Romney-Ryan plans to 'privatize' each program and turn Medicare into a coupon that would cost seniors an additional $6,350 dollars a year, and once again put millions of seniors in financial jeopardy. That doesn't sound like any sort of coupon I'd want. It’s okay to talk about how expensive these plans are, sure. But if the ‘solution’ is to pass costs along to states and seniors, then Ryan should be clear about that.

Again, this has its origins in Congress, and it will have implications this election. Nearly every Democrat running in a contested race is running against a Republican who voted for this plan. Polls show that voters in swing states oppose this plan by a 3 to 1 margin. Every one of those voters now has an opportunity to vote against the plan by voting against the Republican running for Congress. The Democrats can seize this opportunity if only they do as the vice president has, and call out the lies and deception.

The pundits will initially discuss who won, who lost, and all the different style points in this debate. The real verdict is this: During this election it is essential that we provide support to Democrats down the ballot and vote this Tea Party Majority out. We must continue to work on behalf of strong progressive candidates like Annie Kuster in New Hampshire, and Raul Ruiz in California who will fight to strengthen Medicare and invest to grow jobs from the middle out. This November, from the president all the way down the ticket, it is clear that America has one choice to keep the country moving forward.