CAMBRIDGE, Md. — President Obama on Friday called on all Americans to share in the responsibility of shoring up the country’s still wobbly economy, but denied his policies are pitting the wealthy against the middle class in a class war.
Building on his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, Mr. Obama, speaking to House Democrats gathered at the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Hotel for their annual strategy retreat, said “common purpose and common resolve” will ensure the United States is the “greatest country, the largest economy and [has] the broadest middle class on earth.”
“We do not succeed on our own, we all have to pull weight and to our own work,” he said. “America is not about handouts but we always understand we’re more successful when we do it together.”
The president said the “critical debate in this country right now” is “whether we are going to restore that sense of an American promise where if you work hard … if you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, you have the chance to get a job that allows you to support your family.”
Mr. Obama reaffirmed his support for the so-called “Buffett Rule” setting a higher minimum tax rate on millionaires, but dismissed criticisms he is demanding the nation’s wealthy shoulder an unfair share of the nation’s tax burden.
“This is one of the biggest things I’m going to be pushing back at against this year is this notion that somehow this is class warfare, that we’re trying to stir up envy,” he said. “Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you got to work hard if you’re going to be financially successful.”
Mr. Obama said he will push hard to ensure those earning more than $1 million dollars annually aren’t getting tax breaks and subsidies “they don’t need.” He said his proposal is “not out of envy, but out of a sense of fairness and a sense of mutual responsibility and a sense of commitment to this country’s future.”
The president, who earlier in the day spoke at the University of Michigan, said the federal bailout of General Motors and Chrysler— credited with saving the Detroit motor companies from shuttering — is an example of the government’s role and responsibility to help protect private sector jobs.
“You can feel this sense of renewed purpose and renewed hope in that state, he said. “They understand that had we not acted, a million jobs might have been lost.”
But the president added “the job is not done — not even close” to help bolster the U.S. manufacturing base. To to that, he said, requires a more fair tax code that doesn’t provide tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas.
“We are focusing on companies that are investing right here in the United States,” he said.
The president also took a jab at Republicans who have fought his initiatives for renewable energy, such as solar, wind and biofuels, as well as greater vehicle efficient standards.
“Oil is not enough,” he said. Republicans “think that the only subsidy that’s worth providing is subsidies to oil companies. Well, as I said, we’ve been subsidizing oil companies for close to a century now. Rarely have they been more profitable.”
The president said the economy is improving to the the point where international companies increasingly are looking to invest in the U.S.
“When you look at the whole package, a lot of companies are saying, we want to be here, close to our market,” he said. “But one of the biggest impediments is we’ve got to be able to find the skilled workers that are going to be managing million-dollar pieces of equipment.”
The president, as he did during his address to the nation three days earlier, also pushed for making a college eduction more affordable to average Americans. He praised House Democrats for backing his efforts to expand the federal Pell Grant tuition program while House Republicans push for cuts in the program.
Repeating one of his popular election-year themes, the president called on congressional Democrats to push back Republican attempts to “obstruct” and play politics.
“Where they’re unwilling to act, where they’re more interested in party than they are in country, more interested in the next election than the next generation, then we’ve got to call them out on it,” he said, as the receptive crown broke out in applauses. “We’ve got to call them out on it. We’ve got to push them. We can’t wait. We can’t be held back.”
And while presidential elections years often result in little meaningful legislation passed in Congress, the president urged the lawmakers to “not to forget that there’s still work that we can do right now,” such as extending the payroll tax holiday that expired after Feb. 29.
Mr. Obama also thanked House Democrats — who lost control of the chamber after the 2010 elections — for their efforts in advancing his agenda and pushing the economy forward.
“You guys have had my back through some very tough times,” Mr. Obama said. “I’m going to have your back, as well. And together we’re going to move this country forward.”