President Obama is calling on Congress to increase taxes on millionaires, reviving a proposal he first pitched in September that aims to draw sharp election-year lines between the president and the Republican opposition.
The plan, scheduled for a vote April 16 in the Democratic-controlled Senate, stands little chance of passing in Congress. But it is a prominent symbol of efforts by the president and congressional Democrats to portray themselves as champions of economic fairness. Republicans dismiss the idea as a political stunt with little real effect on the budget.
"We don't envy success in this country. We aspire to it," Obama said in his Saturday radio and Internet address. "But we also believe that anyone who does well for themselves should do their fair share in return, so that more people have the opportunity to get ahead -- not just a few."
Obama encouraged listeners to pressure Congress members "to stop giving tax breaks to people who don't need them."
The president calls the plan the "Buffett Rule" for Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who has complained that rich people like him pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than middle-class taxpayers. Many wealthy taxpayers earn investment income, which is taxed at 15 percent. Obama has proposed that people earning at least $1 million annually -- whether in salary or investments -- should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
Obama also renewed his call for ending tax cuts for taxpayers earning more than $250,000. Those breaks, enacted during President George W. Bush's first term, expire at the end of this year.
"Today, the wealthiest Americans are paying taxes at one of the lowest rates in 50 years," he said. "Warren Buffett is paying a lower rate than his secretary. Meanwhile, over the last 30 years, the tax rates for middle-class families have barely budged."
In the Republican address, House Speaker John Boehner challenged Obama to get behind energy proposals backed by House Republicans, sustaining a GOP drive to blame the administration for high gas prices in an election year.
He criticized Obama for pushing a bill to end oil and gas subsidies and for pressing Senate Democrats to vote down an effort to jump-start an oil pipeline project from Canada to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast. He said Obama, in a meeting with congressional leaders a month ago, had shown a willingness to embrace some House Republican energy ideas.
"It was a new sign of hope, but unfortunately, only a brief one," Boehner said.