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Americans who make more than $1 million a year should not pay less than 30 percent in taxes. And, Americans who make under $250,000 a year should not have to pay higher taxes.
That was the core of President Barack Obama's message at tonight's State of the Union address, a speech focused heavily on the economy and jobs. This is Obama's third SOTU since taking office, and will attract a projected 43 million to 52 million viewers.
The proposals came as part of what President Obama is calling the "Buffett rule," influenced by billionaire Obama-supporter Warren Buffett, who announced in an August New York Times op-ed that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Obama carved out the economic position which is likely to form the core message of his 2012 reelection campaign: A tax raise on the wealthiest Americans as imperative for America's economic recovery.
"Do we want to keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans? Or do we want to keep our investments in everything else – like education and medical research; a strong military and care for our veterans? Because if we’re serious about paying down our debt, we can’t do both."
Obama advocated for changing the tax code so that America's wealthy – or "people like me, and an awful lot of Members of Congress" – pay their fair share of taxes. He told Congress, "Washington should stop subsidizing millionaires. In fact, if you’re earning a million dollars a year, you shouldn’t get special tax subsidies or deductions."
Although he did not mention millionaire Mitt Romney by name, the remarks come on the same day that Obama's likely GOP rival released his tax returns, which showed that he paid less than 15 percent in taxes in 2010. Characterizing himself as an advocate for the middle class, Obama said, "Right now, because of loopholes and shelters in the tax code, a quarter of all millionaires pay lower tax rates than millions of middle-class households."
Acutely aware that this position will bring on the usual volley of attacks from conservatives for promoting "socialism" and "class warfare," Obama stated, "Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense."
In addition to tax cuts, Obama also told Congress to pass the payroll tax cut without delay, vowed to step up his regulation of Wall Street, and advocated for infrastructure spending projects. "During the Great Depression, America built the Hoover Dam and the Golden Gate Bridge. After World War II, we connected our States with a system of highways," the President said. He asked states to approve spending on construction projects to boost job growth.
Obama is clearly looking to define himself as a "man of the masses" in 2012, using his personal story and some of the same rhetoric of the 2008 campaign to regain his appeal.
"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What’s at stake are not Democratic values or Republican values, but American values. We have to reclaim them."
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