Nati Harnik, Associated Press
COUNCIL BLUFFS, Iowa — Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged Tuesday that he and President Barack Obama want to raise $1 trillion in taxes on the wealthy as part of a plan to let some Bush-era tax cuts expire, giving Republicans fresh fodder to criticize the Democratic ticket just days after the vice president said the middle class has been buried during the past four years.
"On top of the trillions of dollars in spending that we have already cut, we're going to ask the wealthy to pay more. My heart breaks. Come on man," Biden said, during a stop in the battleground state of Iowa.
Biden said Romney and other Republicans often say '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."
Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Romney, said Biden's comment revealed an uncomfortable truth for Democrats.
"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," Williams said.
Just Tuesday, Biden said that 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. It is all part of a pattern in which Republicans have characterized the former U.S. senator as a gaffe-prone liability for Obama on the campaign trail, trying to undermine his role as a vocal, effective surrogate.
But Biden is taking aim of his own, saying that Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney renounced his own tax cut during Wednesday's presidential debate.
At a campaign stop in Iowa, where early voting has already begun, Biden said Romney and running mate Paul Ryan have proposed a $5 trillion tax cut that is the "centerpiece" of their campaign.
During the debate, Romney denied he plans to cut taxes, saying an across-the-board cut in tax rates will be offset by the elimination of unspecified deductions and exemptions.
"Last night we found out (Romney) doesn't have a $5 trillion tax cut. I guess he outsourced that to China," Biden quipped.
While reviewers generally said Romney scored more political points than Obama during the first presidential debate Wednesday night, Biden insisted the president had done well.
Obama "put forward a clear, specific plan" during the debate, Biden told about 650 people at the Mid-America Center in Council Bluffs. But he said Obama had trouble figuring out Romney's positions on issues.
"It's hard to keep up" with Romney and Ryan, Biden said. "You never know what game Gov. Romney is going to come with."
Romney "either changed his positions on some issues or he doesn't remember them," Biden said.
Biden also mocked Romney for not releasing more years of his tax returns, as Democrats have urged him to do.
"It's bad enough he won't release the details of his tax returns. Now he won't tell you what he's going to do with your taxes either," Biden said.
While many of his attacks were delivered with a smile, Biden said Romney's flip-flops on taxes and failure to offer specifics raised questions about his character.
"Ultimately, presidential races, unlike any other race, get down to character. They get down to the character of the man or woman and the character of their convictions: Do they mean what they say and will they do what they say," Biden said. "What I find fascinating, though, is that on nearly every issue, they don't tell you what they are for anymore, and they deliberately misrepresent what they say we are for. You saw it again last night in the debate."
Biden said Romney is misrepresenting Obama's health care plan as hurting older Americans. The health care plan is funded in part by $716 billion in cuts to providers of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for seniors and the disabled.
"The governor is going to have to assume that the public has collective amnesia to take his word over those of us who spent our entire careers protecting and fighting for Medicare," Biden said.
Biden offered backhanded praise for one aspect of Romney's debate performance, saying he was "happy to see" Romney admit that he and Ryan would turn Medicare into a private system that uses vouchers to help seniors pay for health care. Biden and Obama say the GOP plan would put seniors at the mercy of insurance companies.
When questioned about vouchers during the debate, Romney said he would allow future seniors to choose Medicare or a private health plan. His plan would not impose any changes on current retirees and those nearing retirement, Romney said.
Romney did not answer when debate moderator Jim Lehrer asked him directly whether he supports a voucher system, and Romney ignored a follow-up question.
Biden's visit to Iowa was his sixth this year. Obama won Iowa in 2008, and polls show him with a narrow lead this year.
Follow Matthew Daly on Twitter: https://MatthewDalyWDC
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