President Obama said Tuesday that the nation faces a stark economic choice: Continue giving tax breaks to the nation's wealthiest citizens, or fund programs that help grow the middle class.
"Let me me ask you, what's the better way to make our economy stronger?" Obama asked an enthusiastic crowd in Boca Raton, Fla. "Do we give tax breaks to every millionaire and billionaire in the country? Or should we make investments in education and research and health care and our veterans?"
Obama told students at Florida Atlantic University that "what drags our entire economy down" is when "the gap between those at the very, very top and everybody else keeps growing wider and wider and wider and wider."
Much of his campaign-style speech concerned the so-called Buffett Rule, a proposal that would require millionaires and billionaires to pay at least the same tax rate as middle-class income earners.
The president decried Republican budget plans that would give more tax breaks to the wealthy, and he dared the GOP to specify the kinds of budget cuts it would make to reach its goal of a lower federal debt.
"The money's got to come from somewhere," he said.
Republicans denounced the Buffett Rule as an election-year gimmick that would do little to reduce the debt and constitute an unnecessary tax hike that would slow economic growth.
Republican Party spokeswoman Kirsten Kukowski said Obama would rather raise taxes than cut government spending.
The Buffett Rule, she said, would raise "an insignificant amount of tax dollars relative to the size of Obama's binge spending."
The Democratic-run Senate has scheduled a vote on the Buffett Rule for Monday, though Republicans are sure to block it. The proposal is named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who says it's unfair for him to pay a lower tax rate than his secretary.
The reason for the difference: Investment income is taxed at lower rates than salaries and wages.
Proponents of the Buffett Rule have not said whether they would increase investment taxes or establish some sort of flat tax for millionaires and billionaires.
Obama cited the anecdote about Buffett and his secretary in his speech, saying, "Now that's wrong -- that's not fair." The president said the share of national income flowing to the wealthiest 1 percent has climbed to levels last seen in the 1920s, yet the rich pay the lowest tax rates of the past half-century.
"We've got to choose which direction we want this country to go," Obama said. "Do we want to keep giving those tax breaks to folks like me who don't need them? Or do we want to keep investing in those things that keep our economy growing and keep us secured? That's the choice."
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