In a likely preview of the general-election argument to come, Vice President Joe Biden and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney traded barbs Friday over whose economic policies are best for the country. Biden said Romney's would leave most people behind while the Republican said Biden and President Barack Obama live in "fantasyland" for thinking their policies are helping.
Biden singled out the former Massachusetts governor in an opinion piece published Friday in The Des Moines Register in Iowa, where the first votes of the GOP presidential nominating contest will be cast in less than two weeks.
The vice president said Romney's economic proposals "would actually double down on the policies that caused the greatest economic calamity since the Great Depression and accelerated a decades-long assault on the middle class."
"Romney also misleadingly suggests that the president and I are creating an 'Entitlement Society,' whereby government provides everything for its people without regard to merit, as opposed to what he calls an "Opportunity Society," where everything is merit-based and every man is left to fend for himself," Biden wrote.
"The only entitlement we believe in is an America where if you work hard, you can get ahead," the vice president said.
Romney quickly countered that it was Obama who is hurting the country and expressed his astonishment that Biden would have the "chutzpah ... the delusion" to write such a piece.
"This president and his policies have made it harder on the American people and on the middle class," Romney said after campaigning at a diner in Tilton. "And I don't think they get it. "I don't think they understand from fantasyland what's happening in real America. They need to get out to diners like this."
A former businessman, Romney said Obama has made it harder for entrepreneurs to open businesses and create jobs.
He said the country needs as president someone who understands the economy and how it works, and that he intended to fulfill Obama and Biden's wish by becoming the Republican presidential nominee.
For his part, Obama largely has avoided counterattacking Republicans, saying he will wait until there is a nominee. But Obama's re-election campaign hasn't held back and Friday's column by Biden — who had assumed the vice president's traditional role of campaign attack dog — was the latest sign the Obama team believes Romney will win the nomination.
"It's just astonishing to me to have the vice president write an op-ed trying to describe how good things are. You have 25 million Americans who are out of work or who have stopped looking for work," Romney said. "It hasn't gotten better yet. Will it get better? Sure. But I can tell you it's going to get a lot better if you have someone who understands the economy. . I intend to be that person."
Biden's message underscored the major theme of Obama's re-election bid, as the president himself spelled out in a recent speech in Kansas: that the middle class is at a make-or-break moment. The president, who has been saddled with high unemployment, has to make the case that his is the better vision for an ongoing economic recovery for all.
Earlier this week, Romney said Obama was deepening the economic crisis and backing policies that would redistribute wealth instead of creating equal opportunity for people to do well. Romney said his policies would turn the U.S. into an "opportunity society" while Obama's vision for an "entitlement society" would make more people dependent on government welfare.
Biden responded in the op-ed: "The only entitlement we believe in is an America where if you work hard, you can get ahead."
AP White House Correspondent Ben Feller and Associated Press writer Will Lester in Washington contributed to this report.