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Government Executive Editor in Chief Tom Shoop, along with other editors and staff correspondents, look at the federal bureaucracy from the outside in.

Vice presidential debate: What they said about government

Mary Altaffer/AP

In what was possibly the most argumentative debate involving candidates on a national ticket, Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., sparred less than one might have expected Thursday over how to make government work better. While the candidates sharply differed over potential defense cuts and a range of policy issues, there was only one reference to "bureaucrats" and perhaps not surprisingly, no stirring defense from either side of the non-defense side of government. 

Some highlights from the debate, at Centre College in Danville, Ky:

10:21: Biden: "We only have one truly sacred obligation as a government: to equip those we send into harm's way and care for those who come home." Ryan: "We're not going to impose these devastating cuts to our military that compromise their mission and their safety." Both candidates, when asked to address whether they regret any negative campaigning, use it as an opportunity to rip the other party's presidential candidate in very harsh terms.

10:10: Ryan: "Nobody is proposing to send troops to Syria--American troops." Rule on putting American troops on the ground anywhere: Only when it is "within the national security interests of the American people." 

10:01: Ryan on friend in reserves: "I want him and all of our troops to come home as soon as possible." Don't want to extend beyond 2014. "We do agree with the timeline and the transition." Biden on withdrawal of troops: "It takes months and months and months to draw down forces. You cannot wait."

9:57: Ryan on Afghanistan: "Incredible job our troops have done ...  What we don't want to do is lose the gains we've gotten ... We would have more likely taken into account the recommendations of our troop commanders" about force levels in the country. Biden: "We are leaving in 2014. Period."  On Kabul government: "Their security is their responsibility. Not America's."

9:55: Ryan on the defense budget: "We're just not going to cut the defense budget like them. ... You don't cut defense by $1 trillion. That's what we're talking about." Said would cut military personnel, Joint Strike Fighter program, other areas of budget. Biden on defense: "We don't cut it."

9:49: Ryan: "Different from this administration, we actually want to have big bipartisan agreements."

9:41: Biden: If Ryan and Romney simply allowed Medicare to bargain for prescription drug prices, the way Medicaid does, "that would save $156 billion right of the bat."

9:38: Biden: "With regard to Social Security, we will not privatize it."

9:36: First reference to "bureaucrats." Ryan: He and Romney want doctors deciding what care seniors get, "instead of 15 bureaucrats deciding what if where they get it."

9:33: Ryan: "Medicare and Social Security are going bankrupt. Those are indisputable facts." On "Obamacare board": "It will lead to denying care for current seniors."  

9:30 Ryan on the stimulus: characterizes it as gift of $830 billion to special interests. Raps "green pork." Biden: inspector general cleared us of conflict of interest charges. Hits Ryan on asking for stimulus funds for Wisconsin, and says IGs found little waste. 

9:24: Biden goes there on Romney's remarks about "the 47 percent." Ryan: "We're going in the wrong direction. ... This is not what a real recovery looks like."

9:20: Biden: "This is a bunch of stuff." Moderator Martha Raddatz: "What does that mean, a bunch of stuff?"

9:13: Ryan: "We cannot allow Iran to gain a nuclear weapons capability." Also: "When this administration says that all options are on the table, they send out administration officials that send mixed signals." Biden: "Imagine if we had let the Republican Congress work out these sanctions" against Iran. "Do you think there's any possibility the rest of the world would have joined us?" 

9:08: Ryan raps administration for not seeking funds for embassy security, criticizes "devastating defense cuts." Biden: "That's a bunch of malarkey." Says GOP provided $300 million less than administration asked for in embassy security funds. On why administration officials said the attack was the result of a controversial YouTube video: "We said exactly what the intelligence community told us what they knew. ... We will get to the bottom of this."

9:03 p.m. ET: Asked if death of Ambassador Chris Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, was a "massive intelligence failure," Biden labels it  "a tragedy." Pivots quickly to attack on Bin Laden. Ryan: "It took the president two weeks to acknowledge this was a terrorist attack. ... Shouldn't we have a Marine detachment guarding our ambassador in Benghazi?"

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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