updated 7/16/2009 7:11:12 PM ET 2009-07-16T23:11:12

Vice President Joe Biden, in the backyard of the House's No. 2 Republican, asked critics of the economic stimulus package Thursday to explain how they would help the struggling economy.

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Biden defended the Obama administration's $787 billion recovery package at a community college in the affluent Richmond suburbs that House Republican Whip Eric Cantor calls home.

Cantor pre-emptively renewed the Republican attack, telling reporters in a conference call that the plan will destroy small businesses and deepen unemployment.

Sharing the stage with Richmond's police chief, a local teacher and the owner of a company that makes desserts, Biden credited the recovery package for thawing the credit freeze that stifled loans and left businesses unable to borrow or, in some cases, survive.

He said it saved thousands of jobs of public employees, including jobs in schools, fire departments and law-enforcement, and punctuated his point by announcing $1.6 million in new federal stimulus cash for Richmond's police department.

And he repeatedly referred to the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression as a dark legacy inherited six months ago from Republicans.

"More than 700 lenders that had not made a loan since October 2008, have made (stimulus-aided) loans," Biden said.

"Those billions of dollars get poured back in the economy," he said, turning to face John Fernandez, owner of DayStar Desserts in Richmond. "It means someone's buying your desserts, it means someone's going to the local shoe store. It means people's jobs."

Cantor: Obama must accept responsibility
Without mentioning Cantor by name, Biden challenged GOP critics of the stimulus plan to say why they wouldn't provide health care and unemployment benefits for the jobless and avert thousands of layoffs of teachers, firefighters and police. Cantor is among the most outspoken congressional critics of the package.

"The very guys who are saying this is a terrible act want me to make sure you get high-speed rail. Isn't that kind of funny," he said.

"Would they not provide help to the states to maintain the rolls for Medicare and Medicaid and those newly unemployed who need it? Would they not extend unemployment benefits to those who have lost their dignity, lost their jobs, maybe lost their home," he asked about 300 people at J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College in Henrico County.

Cantor, who grew up in Henrico County and lives only a few miles from the site of Thursday's event, said President Barack Obama has to accept responsibility now for unemployment rates that have continued to soar since President George W. Bush left office. Obama on Wednesday said he was amused at the claims of those who were in charge when the financial problems started that "this is Obama's economy" and he said "That's fine. Give it to me!"

And Cantor did, saying: "The unemployment rate is skyrocketing. The stimulus has not succeeded. Why it is that they want to go and continue to tout success when the reality is people are losing their jobs, families are going into economic freefall?"

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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