Candidates in vice-presidential debate raise questions in answering them

Topic: Defense

Claim by Ryan: “They proposed a $478 billion cut to defense to begin with. Now we have another $500 billion cut to defense that’s lurking on the horizon. They insisted upon that cut being involved in the debt negotiations, and so we have a $1 trillion cut. ... You don’t cut defense by a trillion dollars. That’s what we’re talking about.”

Analysis: The $1 trillion figure is a worst-case scenario that both Republicans and Demcrats say they want to avoid.

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The Department of Defense already must trim $487 billion under the Budget Control Act, the debt ceiling compromise reached last summer. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in May that his department is prepared to handle those reductions with a plan that “meets not only the goal of savings but also, more importantly, protects a strong national defense for this country.”

But deeper cuts are coming if Congress does not find an alternative. The Budget Control Act called for $2.1 trillion in total deficit reductions between 2012 and 2021. Most of those cuts, $1.2 trillion, were unspecified, and a 12-member congressional “supercommittee” was charged with determining where the money would come from.

To promote bipartisan compromise, lawmakers included in the Budget Control Act a list of default cuts, known as sequesters, to be implemented if the supercommittee failed to reach an agreement. The supercomittee did fail, and the default cuts include another $500 billion from defense.

Sequestration is part of what lawmakers often refer to as the “fiscal cliff” a combination of spending cuts and tax increases that will take effect next year, unless the two parties reach a deal, and which could push the country back into a recession. A deal is not expected before Election Day.

Topic: Religious freedom

Claim by Ryan: “Look at what they’re doing with Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.”

Analysis: The charge centers on an announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services in January that virtually all employers would be required to provide free contraception through their health insurance plans under the 2010 national health care law. Churches were exempted, but colleges, charities and hospitals affiliated with religious groups were not.

After strong objections by Republicans and religious leaders, particularly Catholics, Obama outlined a compromise in February: Women employed by religiously affiliated organizations would still receive free contraception coverage, but the coverage would be funded by insurance companies, not by employers.

But Obama’s compromise has failed to satisfy some Catholics. In June, the Catholic Health Association said the president’s proposal is “unlikely to adequately meet the religious liberty concerns of all of our members and other church ministries” in a letter to Health and Human Services. The health association contended the Obama administration’s definition of a religious employer remains too narrow and expressed discomfort with “direct or indirect involvement” in providing contraception coverage.