The Charlotte Observer, Jeff Siner, Associated Press
CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Vice President Joe Biden said Tuesday that the middle class has been "buried" during the past four years, a statement that Republicans immediately seized upon as an unwitting indictment of the Obama administration.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney replied on Twitter that he agrees with Biden, saying: "the middle class has been buried the last 4 years, which is why we need a change in November."
Biden told about 1,000 people in Charlotte that Romney would cut taxes for millionaires and raise them for middle-class families.
"This is deadly earnest," Biden said. "How they can justify raising taxes on a middle class that has been buried the last four years? How in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?"
Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan, said a Romney presidency is a solution for middle-class families who feel "buried" by taxes or government policies.
"We need to stop digging by electing Mitt Romney the next president of the United States. Of course the middle class has been buried," Ryan said in Burlington, Iowa. "They're being buried by regulations; they're being buried by taxes; they're being buried by borrowing. They're being buried by the Obama administration's economic failures."
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman for Obama's campaign, said the Republican response to Biden's remarks was "another desperate and out-of-context attack."
Smith said Biden has long been saying, as he repeated on Tuesday, "that the middle class was punished by the failed Bush policies that crashed our economy." A vote for Romney and Ryan "is a return to those failed policies," she said.
Biden tried to clarify his comments at a campaign rally in Asheville, N.C., later in the day, declaring that the Republican presidential ticket would hurt middle-class voters.
"The middle class was buried by the policies that Romney and Ryan supported," Biden said.
Republicans hoped that Biden's remarks would provide momentum heading into the first presidential debate, a session on economic policy scheduled Wednesday night in Denver.
In an afternoon conference call arranged by the Romney campaign, former New Hampshire Gov. John Sununu said Biden's comment helped "set the stage" for the debate. Of the two candidates on the debate stage, only Obama is responsible for the pain middle-class families feel, Sununu said.
"Vice President Biden finally got something right when he made the admission that the middle class has been buried in the last four years under President Obama. I suspect it is probably in his debate preparation he's been looking at the statistics that are out there. The middle class has been devastated under President Obama," said Sununu, who served as White House chief of staff under President George H.W. Bush.
Sununu said viewers should expect Romney to refer to Biden's remarks as they watch the debate Wednesday night.
How the middle class has fared during Obama's tenure is a mixed picture. Many have benefited from an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts under Obama, and a new cut in payroll taxes over the past two years. A resurgent stock market has helped those who have 401k retirement accounts.
But the value of houses, the most valuable investment for many families, still hasn't fully recovered from the housing bust that started before Obama took office in January 2009. Unemployment remains stubbornly high from the Great Recession of 2007-2009 and wages are stagnant.
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