BOCA RATON, Fla. - President Obama on Tuesday renewed his public push for the Buffett Rule, hoping that the proposal to raise taxes on millionaires will deepen distinctions with his political rivals in an election year, even if it has little chance to become law.
Appearing before thousands of students at Florida Atlantic University, Obama urged the Senate to approve the Paying a Fair Share Act, which would require people earning at least $1 million a year to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.
"I want folks to get rich in this country. It's wonderful when people are successful. That's part of the American dream," Obama told the enthusiastic crowd. "But we have to understand the share of our national income going to the top 1 percent has climbed to levels we have not seen since the 1920s. The folks benefiting from this are paying taxes at the lowest rates in 50 years. That's wrong. That's not fair. We have to choose the direction this country will be going in."
The Senate is scheduled to vote Monday on the proposal, inspired by billionaire investor Warren E. Buffett, who has said it is unfair that he can use tax loopholes to pay a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. Buffett is chairman of The Buffalo News.
Although the legislation is probably doomed in the Republican-led House even if it succeeds in the Senate, the White House believes that the bill appeals to the public's sense of economic fairness, a theme that Obama has sought to accentuate as he ramps up his re-election campaign.
The Obama campaign has been eager to paint the president as a champion of the middle class and cast his prospective GOP challenger, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who earned a personal fortune as manager of a private equity firm, as out of touch with ordinary Americans. Romney paid an effective tax rate of 14 percent on earnings of $42 million in 2010 and 2011, according to his tax returns.
Obama did not mention Romney by name in his remarks but did refer to him obliquely when he said "some running for a certain office who shall not be named" were doubling down on the same kind of financial policies -- tax cuts for the wealthy, lax regulations -- that contributed to the Great Recession.
As he did in a speech to news editors at an Associated Press luncheon last week, Obama blistered the Republican House's budget, which proposes to slash entitlements and agency spending to cut more than $5 trillion from the national debt over the next decade.
Obama also said the choice facing voters this November will be as stark as in the milestone 1964 contest between Lyndon B. Johnson and Barry Goldwater -- one that ended up with one of the biggest Democratic landslides in history.
"This election will probably have the biggest contrast that we've seen maybe since the Johnson-Goldwater election, maybe before that," Obama told donors at the first of three campaign events in Florida.
In his 1964 race against Goldwater, Johnson carried 44 of 50 states and won 61 percent of the popular vote, the largest share of any candidate since 1820.
In a reception at a gated community in Palm Beach Gardens, Obama said Democrats would ensure the rich pay their fair share, while focusing on investments in education, science and research and caring for the most vulnerable.
By contrast, he said, Republicans would dismantle education and clean-energy programs so they can give still more tax breaks to the rich.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.