A day after demanding Washington lawmakers extend middle-class tax cuts while raising taxes on the wealthy, President Obama took his case directly to voters Tuesday, traveling to Iowa to argue that the rich should pay higher taxes in order to cut the deficit and fund his spending priorities.
Presumptive Republican nominee Mitt Romney countered at a town hall style meeting in Colorado, arguing that the president's plan would increase taxes on small businesses, and said his own across-the-board rate reduction is a more economy-friendly approach.
Looking to cast Republicans as strictly beholden to the most deep-pocketed Americans, Mr. Obama shoved the Bush-era tax cuts back onto the forefront of the presidential campaign this week. He called on Republicans to "not hold the vast majority of Americans hostage" to a debate over whether to give tax cuts for the top 2 percent of U.S. households.
Speaking at a recreation center in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Mr. Obama suggested that Republicans have so far been unwilling to compromise.
"What do you usually do when you agree on 98 percent and disagree on the other 2 percent?" he asked the crowd. "Go ahead and do the 98 percent and hold off on the 2 percent. Let's agree when we can agree."
The White House has, however, held 98 percent agreement hostage over 2 percent disagreement itself. Presidential spokesman Jay Carney said this week that Mr. Obama would veto a hypothetical bill that extended all the Bush cuts for everyone, including the wealthy.
If Congress fails to extend the Bush-era tax breaks for families making less than $250,000 a year, Mr. Obama warned that it would be "a huge blow to those families" and "a big blow to our entire economy at a time when we need all the help we can get."
Wealthier Americans like himself, he argued, should pay more.
"To give me another tax break, or to give Warren Buffett another tax break, or to give Mitt Romney another tax break, that would cost about a trillion dollars and we can't afford it, not at a time when we're trying to bring down our deficit, not at a time when we're trying to reduce our debt," he said.
Mr. Romney returned fire later in the day, labeling the president an "old-style liberal" and outlining his proposal to reduce individual tax rates for all Americans by 20 percent.
He also said that after the disappointing jobs report released earlier this month, the president's plan amounts to "another kick in the gut" — creating another financial burden for the same small businesses that are the nation's job creators.
"So at the very time the American people are seeing fewer jobs created than we need, the president announces he's going to make it harder for jobs to be created," Mr. Romney told the audience.
The renewed tax battle comes on the heels of a Washington Times/ JZ Analytics poll released this week that shows the race for the White House remains essentially tied four months from Election Day — highlighting the importance that Iowa, Colorado and about a handful of other battleground states will play in picking the next president.
With the help of the Republican National Committee, Mr. Romney also fought back Tuesday against the attempts by the Obama camp and other Democrats to label him as an outsourcer of jobs. In recent weeks, Democrats have pointed to a story in The Washington Post that said his former company, Bain Capital, invested in firms that shipped American jobs to countries like China and India to cut costs.
On Tuesday, Mr. Romney called the Obama ads "false and misleading" — among other things, the Bain investments in question occurred after Mr. Romney ran the company. Both factcheck.org and Post fact-checker Glenn Kessler also have come down hard on the Obama campaign's use of The Post story.
Mr. Romney also tried to turn the tables on Mr. Obama by alluding to a more-recent Post story that came down hard on Mr. Obama on a similar issue — the use of federal stimulus money to support companies that made products overseas.
"But it is interesting that when it comes to outsourcing, that this president has been outsourcing a good deal of American jobs himself by putting money into energy companies — solar and wind — that end up making their products outside the United States," he said. "If there is an outsourcer-in-chief, it is the president of the United States, not the guy who is running to replace him."
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