Biden "buried middle class" gaffe under fire

CHARLOTTE, N.C. Vice President Joe Biden came under fire from his Republican opponents Tuesday after he suggested at a campaign rally that the middle class "has been buried the last four years" - the period of time President Obama has been in office.

While attempting to make the point that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney would raise taxes on the middle class if he is elected, Biden told a crowd of about 1,000 people, "This is deadly earnest. How they can justify, how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in the Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes? We've seen this movie before ..."

The Romney campaign pounced on the comment with a statement saying that the middle class has been "buried" by policies put in place by President Obama in his first term, including being "buried under more and more debt ... buried under falling incomes ... buried under high unemployment."

And Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said in Burlington, Iowa, Tuesday, "Of course the middle class has been buried. They are being buried by regulations, they are being buried by taxes ... They are being buried by borrowing, they are being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures. You see the Obama economic agenda failed not because it was stopped, it failed because it was passed. ... Help is on the way. We can turn this around."

The Obama campaign sought to clarify Biden's remarks with a statement that said, "As the vice president has been saying all year, and again in his remarks today, the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy -- and a vote for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan is a return to those failed policies." The campaign claimed that the private sector added 5 million jobs since 2010.

Biden himself attempted a redo at a later campaign stop in Asheville, N.C. He said, "Folks, a lot of you have been through an awful lot these past few years, particularly your parents. As I said the middle class has been decimated. We lost 9 million jobs because of that Great Recession. ... The middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and then Ryan supported."

Biden spent the day trying to make the case that Romney has beeen inconsistent on the issue of taxes. He said at the Charlotte rally that Romney at one time conceded that Obama had not raised taxes on the middle class but then pointed to an ad that began airing on Tuesday that claims the administration did raise taxes.

Romney said at a campaign event in September, "I admit this. (Obama) has one thing he did not do in his first four years (that) he's said he's going to do in his next four years, which is to raise taxes."

In the Romney campaign ad, the voiceover says, "Who will raise taxes on the middle class? Barack Obama and the liberals already have."

Biden said at the rally, "Even Romney had what we Catholics say is an epiphany. He said, 'They have not raised taxes on the middle class.' But apparently Paul Ryan has not gotten the memo." As the crowd laughed, Biden went on, "They know it. The president did not raise taxes on the middle class. Yet, turn on the ads. We cut taxes for everyone in the middle class!"

Nevertheless, Biden's "buried" comment is sure to give the Romney campaign fodder to fight back against the barrage of Democratic attacks over Romney's secretly videotaped slam on "47 percent" of Americans who he said are dependent on government and won't help themselves.

Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this report.

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    Rodney Hawkins covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.