Friday, December 19th, 2014

In Context: Biden on 'buried' middle class

Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign stop in Green Bay, Wis.
Vice President Joe Biden at a campaign stop in Green Bay, Wis.

"In Context" is an occasional  feature of PolitiFact Wisconsin. It is intended to give readers the context of a statement that has received widespread attention.

On Oct. 2, 2012, Vice President Joe Biden said something at a campaign speech in North Carolina that ended up as fodder for "The Tonight Show" later that evening.

"I love this," host Jay Leno said in his monologue. "At a campaign rally in Charlotte, Vice President Joe Biden said the middle class has been buried the past four years. They’re buried. I’m sorry, which candidate is he campaigning for? I’m confused."

Of course, four years is nearly the time Biden and President Barack Obama have been in the White House. So his "gaffe," as CBS News and other media called it, was quickly pounced upon.

Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan happily quoted Biden in a campaign speech of his own later that day, saying the middle class has been buried by regulations, taxes, borrowing and the "Obama administration's economic failures."

The Obama campaign attempted to clarify Biden’s remarks by saying "the middle class was punished by the failed" policies of President George W. Bush, "that crashed our economy." And Biden himself later said the middle class had been hurt by policies supported by Ryan and GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

Biden’s "buried" comment could well become part of Thursday night’s vice presidential debate.

So, what was Biden talking about?

As The Wall Street Journal reported, Biden was discussing a report from the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that said the tax plan proposed by Romney and Ryan would result in a higher tax burden for middle-income families by reducing certain tax breaks that they already receive -- a conclusion that has been challenged by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Here’s that one-minute portion of Biden’s speech, from a video and a transcript:

The Tax Policy Center "came out and said, the Romney-Ryan tax plan will raise taxes on middle-class families with a child, one or more children, by an additional $2,000 a year. (Boos.)

"How -- you know, all kidding aside, with all the boos, I mean, we could stop all that malarkey. Look, guys, (inaudible) -- think of -- this is deadly earnest, man. This is deadly earnest. How they can justify -- how they can justify raising taxes on the middle class that's been buried the last four years, how in Lord's name can they justify raising their taxes with these tax cuts?

"And look, folks. We've seen this movie before, massive tax cuts for the wealthy, eliminating restrictions on Wall Street, let the banks write their own rules. We know where it ends. It ends in the catastrophe of the middle class and the Great Recession of 2008. Folks, we cannot go back to that."

Two footnotes:

The New Jersey Democratic State Committee claimed that the Tax Policy Center found that Romney’s plan would raise taxes on the average middle-class family by $2,000 to pay for $5 trillion in tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. PolitiFact New Jersey rated that statement Half True, saying the $2,000 part of the claim is accurate but that tax cuts for the wealthy would be far less than $5 trillion.

Rating a similar claim by Obama as Mostly True, PolitiFact National found that based on the Tax Policy Center’s analysis of Romney’s plan, millionaires would see an average tax decrease of $87,000 while people making $200,000 or less a year would see their taxes rise by an average of about $2,000. Our colleagues cautioned that the Tax Policy Center made assumptions about tax deductions and write-offs that would be eliminated because Romney’s plan lacks details on which tax breaks it would end.