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Fact or fiction in the U.S. vice presidential debate?

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By Mark Felsenthal

WASHINGTON, Oct 12 (Reuters) - U.S. Vice President Joe Bidenand his Republican rival, Paul Ryan, faced off on Thursday intheir only debate before the Nov. 6 presidential election. Hereis some fact-checking of claims made by the candidates.

RYAN: ECONOMIC GROWTH IS SLOWER NOW

During the debate, Ryan said the economy is "growing at 1.3percent. That's slower than it grew last year and last year wasslower than the year before."

Ryan is correct.

U.S. gross domestic product grew at an annualized rate of1.3 percent in the second quarter of this year. For all of 2011,it grew 1.8 percent and for all of 2010 it grew 2.4 percent.

However, the economy shrank for four consecutive quartersfrom the third quarter of 2008 through the second quarter of2009, including a whopping 8.9 percent contraction in the lastthree months of 2008.

U.S. GDP has posted 12 consecutive quarters of growth sincethe middle of 2009 and economists expect the streak to continue.

Many economists attribute slower growth in 2011 to theEuropean sovereign debt crisis and the effects of U.S. politicalgridlock surrounding increasing the national borrowing limit.

BIDEN: THE RECESSION WAS CAUSED BY SPENDING ON WARS, THEMEDICARE DRUG BENEFIT AND TAX CUTS

During the debate, Biden said, "And, by the way, they talkabout this Great Recession if it fell out of the sky, like, 'Oh,my goodness, where did it come from?' It came from this man(Ryan) voting to put two wars on a credit card, to at the sametime put a prescription drug benefit on the credit card, atrillion-dollar tax cut for the very wealthy. I was there. Ivoted against them. I said, 'No, we can't afford that.'"

Biden was reaching.

While many factors contributed to the deep recession betweenDecember, 2007 and June 2009, the downturn was primarily due tothe collapse of financial markets amid a tidal wave of baddebts, over borrowing by consumers and businesses and a wildlyover-valued housing market.

Democrats tend to blame spending on the wars in Iraq andAfghanistan, the Medicare prescription drug benefit, and the taxcuts enacted under President George W. Bush for causing themassive U.S. budget deficit, but not for causing the recession.

RYAN: UNEMPLOYMENT IS GOING UP IN SCRANTON, PENNSYLVANIA,AND NATIONALLY

During the debate, Ryan said, "Joe and I are from similartowns. He's from Scranton, Pennsylvania. I'm from Janesville,Wisconsin. You know what the unemployment rate in Scranton istoday?"

"I sure do," said Biden.

"It's 10 percent," said Ryan. "You know what it was the dayyou guys came in - 8.5 percent. ... That's how it's going allaround America."

"You don't read the statistics," responded Biden. "That'snot how it's going. It's going down."

Ryan was only half right.

The unemployment rate for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barremetropolitan area was 9.6 percent in August, according to theLabor Department. It was 8.4 percent in January 2009, when Obamatook office, and peaked at 10.4 percent in January 2010.

However, the national unemployment rate was 7.8 percent inSeptember, the same level as when President Barack Obama tookoffice. The national unemployment level peaked at 10 percent inOctober 2009.

BIDEN: RYAN'S BUDGET CUT EMBASSY SECURITY FUNDING

In a discussion of the recent death of the U.S. ambassadorto Libya during an attack on a U.S. diplomatic mission inBenghazi, Biden said, "The congressman here cut embassy securityin his budget by $300 million below what we asked for."

Biden was extrapolating.

The figure comes from the budget blueprint Ryan prepared aschairman of the U.S. House Budget Committee, which would havecut non-defense discretionary spending by 19 percent in 2014.That would equal about $300 million for embassy security,construction and maintenance.

Ryan's budget proposal passed the Republican House but nevercame to a vote in the Democratic-majority Senate. Had it beenenacted, appropriations committees would have been the ones todetermine how much something as specific as diplomatic missionsecurity would be funded.

RYAN: IRAN HAS ENOUGH MATERIAL FOR FIVE NUCLEAR BOMBS

In a discussion of the effectiveness of the Obamaadministration's policy on Iran's nuclear program, Ryan said,"When Barack Obama was elected they (the Iranians) had enoughfissile material - nuclear material to make one bomb. Now theyhave enough for five. They are racing toward a nuclear weapon.They're four years closer toward a nuclear weapons capability."

Ryan was wrong.

Analysts believe Iran has enough uranium for one to threebombs but only after proper processing. The Institute forScience and International Security says that Iran has notenriched that material to the level needed for a single nuclearweapon, let alone five, and has been held back by internationalpressure.

"Without past negotiated outcomes, international pressure,sanctions, and intelligence operations, Iran would likely havenuclear weapons by now. Iran has proven vulnerable tointernational pressure," the ISIS said.

BIDEN: THE ROMNEY-RYAN TAX PLAN, WHICH WOULD CUT TAX RATESBY 20 PERCENT, WOULD REDUCE GOVERNMENT REVENUES BY $5 TRILLION

This was another round in an argument that arose in thedebate between Obama and Republican presidential nominee MittRomney.

In the vice-presidential debate, Ryan said, "You can cut taxrates by 20 percent and still preserve these importantpreferences for middle-class taxpayers."

Biden responded that this was "not mathematicallypossible."

Both men were playing with numbers.

Romney would cut tax rates by 20 percent, eliminate taxes oninvestment income for those earning under $200,000, get rid ofthe estate tax and reduce the corporate tax rate to 25 percentfrom 35 percent. That adds up to $5 trillion less in federalrevenue over ten years, according to the Tax Policy Center.

In order to make up for the loss, Romney would have toeliminate 65 percent of all loopholes in the tax system to makeup for those tax cuts, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center hassaid.

Cutting the ten largest tax breaks - which include populardeductions for mortgage interest payments and employercontributions for health insurance - could achieve that amountof lost revenue, the Congressional Research Service has said.

(Reporting by Mark Felsenthal and Lucy Shackelford; Editing byFred Barbash and Jim Loney)

((Mark.Felsenthal@thomsonreuters.com)(1 202 898 8329))

Keywords: USA CAMPAIGN/FACT