BOCA RATON -- President Barack Obama came to South Florida to raise money from millionaires and ask them to pay more in taxes. Obama interrupted his $2 million campaign-fundraising trip to advocate for his proposed tax-the-rich “Buffett Rule.” Republicans say the Democrat is waging class warfare while sticking taxpayers with his campaign travel expenses.
By highlighting the Buffett Rule in his public speech at Florida Atlantic University, Obama ratcheted up the pressure for the tax-day April 15 Senate vote on the rule, which seeks to tax those who earn more than $1 million annually to pay a 30 percent tax rate.
"In this country, prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy few. Prosperity has always come from the bottom up,” Obama said. “And yet we keep on having the same argument with folks who don’t seem to understand how it is that America got built."
The chances of the Buffett Rule — nicknamed for billionaire investor Warren Buffett — passing are virtually nil in the Senate, where Republicans can filibuster the vote.
Still, Obama urged the FAU college students to get active and contact their congressmen.
“Tweet them," he said, eliciting laughs. At another point, the students chanted "four more years."
Like his last speech in February in Miami —where he chastised his opponents for attacking him over high gas prices — Republicans noted that Obama’s speech had a negative and defensive quality to it when compared to some of his more positive 2008 campaign speeches.
“The candidate who ran for hope and change has now become the president of divide and deceive," Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart said earlier in the day.
Though it’s rare for candidates to call for tax increases, Obama is on safe ground. The Buffett Rule is popular. A recent McClatchy/Ipsos poll found that 6 in 10 Americans favor higher taxes for the rich.
Even Warren Buffett likes it, saying his secretary shouldn’t pay a higher proportion of income taxes than he. The rule, however, doesn’t touch taxes on capital gains, such as investments, which provides substantial income to the wealthy and is taxed at a 15 percent rate.
Talking about the Buffett Rule helps highlight Republican Mitt Romney’s wealth. Obama’s campaign has pointed out that Romney, who earned about $21 million in 2010, paid a far lower rate — about 14 percent — than the average American.
Obama steered clear of mentioning Romney, but took a swipe at “some people who are running for office who should not be named.” He broadly tried to portray Republicans as heartless for pushing for cuts to entitlement programs and for being out of touch with working people.
"They are doubling down on these old broken down theories," Obama said. He said higher taxes on the rich won’t hurt the economy.
In a Republican National Committee conference call Tuesday morning, Rep. Diaz-Balart and RNC Chairman Reince Priebus bashed Obama for the substance and timing of the FAU speech.
Diaz-Balart accused the president of scheduling the public speech, wedged in between his high-dollar fundraisers, to stick taxpayers with the cost of travel for the president. When asked about Obama’s Republican predecessor, President Bush, doing the same thing, Diaz-Balart said Obama has overtly abused the privilege.
“At the last minute they threw something in [the FAU speech] to justify getting taxpayers to pay for it,” Diaz-Balart said.
Obama had three fundraisers: A $10,000-a-plate luncheon at the Palm Beach Gardens home of former Raytheon executive Hansel Emory Tookes II; a larger event at the Westin Diplomat with Grammy-winning artist John Legend that cost as much as $5,000 per person; and a $15,000-per-plate fundraiser at trial-lawyer Jeremy Alters home.
Republicans contrasted Obama’s rhetoric about helping the middle-class while hobnobbing with the super-rich. They also noted Obama failed to mention the Buffett Rule during his first fundraising luncheon.
Also, they said, the Buffett Rule wouldn’t do anything to create jobs or fill the deficit.
Still, the Buffett Rule would generate about $47 billion more for the treasury over the next decade — and that would reduce the deficit more than some of the cuts proposed by Republicans.
In all, Obama has proposed about $1.5 billion in specific tax increases for next budget year and has identified trillions in spending cuts or reductions to proposed increases.
Romney and House Republicans rallying around the so-called “Ryan Plan” have called for more tax increases by way of closing so-called tax “loopholes,” but they haven’t provided specifics — on that or on their tax-cut proposals in a time of deficits.
"Right— you didn’t because you knew that people wouldn’t accept them,” Obama said in his speech.
“You can’t pay down the deficit by taking in $4.6 trillion in less money," Obama said. Republicans pointed out that the deficit and national debt has exploded on Obama’s watch.
The White House on Monday hosted a conference call with reporters and released a seven-page report detailing how, in the last 50 years, the wealthiest Americans have seen their average tax rates cut in half — to about 26 percent. Meantime, average income-earners have seen their tax rates stay the same or slightly increase.
The report failed to note what Republicans have been saying for years: The wealthy pay more in total taxes than everyone else does right now. Democrats stress over and over again that they and Obama want a “balanced approached” – more tax “fairness” coupled with spending cuts.
But in calling so loudly and repeatedly for taxing the rich, Obama could risk being portrayed as too tax-happy.
The Christian Science Monitor noted that, though the Buffett Rule is popular, support for it might be thin, according to polling from a centrist Democratic group Third Way. The poll indicated that voters without a strongly held opinion of either candidate could be far more likely to support a candidate with Romney’s platform than Obama’s.
Polls right now show Obama is pulling ahead of Romney in Florida and the nation. However, Romney essentially sealed the nomination Tuesday when his main challenger, Rick Santorum, dropped out.
Obama’s campaign is trying to repeat his 2008 performance by ginning up the female, Hispanic and college vote. The latter was in evidence Tuesday at FAU, where he noted how much the wealthy save under Republican tax plans.
"This could pay for a tax credit that could make a year of college more affordable for students like you,” he said. “America has always been a place where anybody who’s willing to work and play by the rules can make it."
Read more at the miamiherald.com