COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa -- Like the Democratic ticket's campaign slogan, Vice President Joe Biden was all fired up and ready to go Thursday as he attempted damage control in the wake of his boss' widely panned debate performance the night before. But, attempting to draw a contrast on tax policy with the Republicans, Biden let slip the two taboo words in any presidential campaign: "raise taxes."
"We're gonna ask - yes - we're gonna ask the wealthy to pay more," Biden told a boisterous crowd of over 600 people here, adding with sarcasm, "My heart breaks, come on, man."
Building on the thought and egged on by the crowd, Biden said, "You know the phrase they always use? 'Obama and Biden want to raise taxes by a trillion dollars.' Guess what? Yes, we do in one regard. We want to let that trillion-dollar tax cut expire so the middle class doesn't have to bear the burden of all that money going to the super wealthy. That's not a tax raise, that's called fairness where I come from."
In spite of his qualifier that the president's plan is "not a tax raise," challenger Mitt Romney's campaign jumped on the remark with a statement that said, "Fresh off admitting that America's middle class has been 'buried' over the last four years, Vice President Biden went a step further today and fully embraced the president's job-killing tax increases. The choice facing Americans in this election gets clearer every day."
Biden's speech was just as tough on the GOP ticket, however. Biden accused Romney of "bald-faced" assertions that Obama's health care plan had cut Medicare benefits, citing endorsements the plan earned from the American Medical Association, the American Cancer Society and the powerful AARP seniors' advocacy group, among others.
Romney, he said, "has to assume that the public is gonna have collective amnesia to take his word over those of us who spent out entire careers protecting and fighting for Medicare."
Earlier in the day, in a meeting with reporters, Biden put a positive spin on Obama's debate performance while making a fleet pivot to discussing upcoming debates -- and, implicitly, the promise they hold for regaining momentum for the Democratic ticket.
Biden said he thought the president looked "presidential" during Wednesday night's first face-off with Romney. But, while echoing his boss's complaint that Romney seemed to back away from his call for across-the-board tax cuts, Biden stressed the two additional upcoming presidential debates and his own encounter with Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan next week.
"You know the centerpiece of their economic policy so far has been their tax cut, and last night we found out he doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut and I guess he outsourced that to China or something," Biden said in a jab at Romney's debate claim that he wouldn't cut taxes if it added to annual deficits. "But it's hard to figure out what Governor Romney's position is on a number of issues, but I think as time goes on, meaning days, it's going to become pretty clear that Governor Romney has either changed a number of his positions or didn't remember some of his positions. And I think at the end of the day, we have two more debates coming up, the president does, and I feel really good about it."
He commiserated with Obama in the face of an onslaught of second-guessing from prominent Democrats on Thursday, saying, "All debates are tough.... You can sit there and say, 'You know, I would of done that,' and 'I would of done this' -- you hear people saying that. Well, it is nothing like standing up before 20, 30, 40, 50, 60, 70 million people."
In his remarks to the crowd, Biden said of Obama, "He put forward a clear, specific plan, how to get this country moving forward again. ... I've gotten to know the man. And let me tell you what I've learned about him. I learned this man never says anything he doesn't mean, and means what he says. He never, never says -- unlike some others -- he never says one thing one day, another thing the next day, and he never changes position because it may be politically convenient."
Biden said he looked forward to his debate with Ryan on Oct. 11 in part because, unlike Romney, Ryan has been straightforward about the policies he embraced as the chairman of the House Budget Committee and as the architect of the leading GOP fiscal plan in Congress. "We have a fundamentally different view on a whole range of issues, so I hope it will be a good debate," he said.