Rallying supporters at a campaign-style event in Florida, President Barack Obama stumped on Tuesday for the so-called "Buffett Rule," which seeks to hike taxes on the very rich and accused Republicans of "doubling down" on economic policies he blamed for the 2008 meltdown.
On the day that Rick Santorum stepped aside and the fall match up solidified beyond a reasonable doubt, Obama gave a glimpse of what is sure to be a major campaign theme going forward: a populist appeal to support the middle class against entrenched wealthy interests.
Obama acknowledged overseeing "the three toughest years in our lifetimes economically — worst financial crisis, worst economic crisis" but blamed the painful downturn on policies embraced by his predecessor, George W. Bush, and congressional Republicans then and now.
"In this country, prosperity has never trickled down from the wealthy few," he said, referring to the Republican-championed view that cutting taxes for the rich spurs investment, ultimately helping middle- and working-class Americans.
"Prosperity has always come from the bottom up, from a strong and growing middle class," he told a cheering crowd at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.
On a Republican National Committee-organized conference call, Republican Representative Mario Diaz-Balart accused Obama of running from his record and from the sunny promise of the "hope and change" slogan that powered his history-making 2008 presidential campaign.
"It is very, very sad that the candidate of 'hope and change' has become the president of 'divide and deceit,'" said Diaz-Balart.Obama, speaking shortly after Rick Santorum dropped out of the race for the Republican presidential nomination, never named Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, or Ron Paul but said "some people who are running for a certain office right now who shall not be named, they're doubling down on these old, broken-down theories."
"They keep telling us that if we just weaken regulations that keep our air or our water clean, or protect our consumers, if we would just convert these investments that we're making through our government in education and research and health care, if we just turn those into tax cuts -- especially for the wealthy -- then somehow the economy is going to grow stronger," Obama said. "That's the theory. And here's the news: We tried this for eight years before I took office. We tried it. It's not like we didn't try it."
Romney's communications director, Gail Gitcho, accused the president of adopting an "Obama rule" that "says that we must tax American families and small business so that government can grow."
"American families and small businesses have already suffered enough," she said in a statement.
The White House had billed the rally, sandwiched among several political fundraisers, as an official policy event — a step Republicans pointed out put taxpayers on the hook for part of the bill for the tab. But Obama did not mention the "Buffett Rule" or its namesake, billionaire investor Warren Buffett, until 26 minutes into his speech. And even then, the proposal merely served to underscore Obama's overall election-year theme that his all-but-certain rival, Romney, favors the rich while the Democratic incumbent is fighting for the middle class.
"Warren Buffett is paying a lower tax rate than his secretary. Now that's wrong. That's not fair. And so we've got to choose which direction we want to go in," said Obama, who urged Floridians to pressure their lawmakers in Washington to support the measure. "Remind them who they work for. Tell them to do the right thing."
Legislation to enact the "Buffett Rule" calls for Americans who make one million dollars per year or more to pay at least 30% of their income in taxes. The measure, crafted by Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, is virtually sure to fail when it comes to a vote in the Senate on April 16.
The proposal would raise an estimated $47 billion over ten years, a drop in the bucket of government spending but enough, Obama said, to spend money on student loans, scientific research, or infrastructure that could bolster the economy.
Obama also worked to shore up his free-market bona fides after three years in which conservatives have accused him of having a government-knows-best philosophy and embracing a "class warfare" reelection strategy, or even accusing him of being a Socialist.
"I start from the belief that government cannot, and should not, try to solve every single problem that we've got," he said. "Government's not the answer to everything."
"I believe the free market is the greatest force for economic progress in human history," he stressed.
"I want folks to get rich in this country," Obama said. "I think it's wonderful when people are successful. That's part of the American dream."
As for the social safety net, and government spending on education, infrastructure, health care, and scientific research, "this is not some Socialist dream," but an approach backed by generations of Republicans and Democrats alike, he said.
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