President Obama told Californians during a campaign-style town hall meeting on Wednesday that rich people can afford to pay higher taxes in selling his budget plan as an investment in the nation’s future.
Mr. Obama pushed back on people who say he is overtaxing the nation, saying his tax increases on families earning $250,000 or more a year are reverting to the tax system under former President Bill Clinton. The president added he will pay higher taxes himself as a result.
“These folks can afford it. They were rich back in the ‘90s,” he said. “It’s not like suddenly they’re going to have to go to the poorhouse. But what that does is it allows us to pay for health care reform for a lot of people.”
Going after a line of attack Republicans have used against him, Mr. Obama insisted, “I don’t think that’s unreasonable. I don’t think that’s socialism.
“If the middle class is working well, if working people are doing well, then everybody does well,” he said. “That’s the philosophy that we are pursuing in this budget; that’s why I need your support.”
On Thursday, Mr. Obama is scheduled to join Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger - a Republican who supported the stimulus plan - for a second town hall meeting after a tour of an electric-vehicle plant in Pomona.
The president highlighted California’s high unemployment and foreclosure rates but noted, thanks to the stimulus plan, a new hospital will be built at Camp Pendleton.
Mr. Obama portrayed himself as someone who understands hard work, sympathizing with an ex-convict who was laid off from his Toyota job and telling the crowd he knows they don’t have the luxury of ignoring their own economic problems.
As with hundreds of town hall events since 2008, the crowd of 1,300 ticketed attendees chanted his name, and questioners professed their nervousness while others just went straight for the heart to shout, “I love you” and earning a presidential, “I love you back.”
He said they could be free to “take me to task” in questions, but no one did. Most questioners fawned over the president, thanking him for the stimulus plan. One woman stated she was nervous because “I just love you.”
Mr. Obama’s main thrust was to sell the budget blueprint he submitted to Congress as a long-term investment in the next generation, and said too often people look at the document as a spreadsheet of numbers instead of realizing “It’s about your lives; it’s about your future.”
Earlier in the day the president released a Web video urging people on his 13-million-strong e-mail list to knock on doors and make phone calls in support of his budget plan.
Mr. Obama seemed to easily revert to campaign mode, joking about there being “so many nice ladies” in the audience and needing to give people under glaring lights “a little love.” He told a man uncomfortable in a tie that “It’s hot, I want to take mine off, too.”
To the first question about seeking a second term in 2012, Mr. Obama said: “If I could get done what I think needs to get done in four years, even if it meant that I was only president for four years, I would rather be a good president taking on the tough issues for four years than a mediocre president for eight years.”