President Obama surrounded himself with wealthy taxpayers and invoked the name of Ronald Reagan Wednesday as he made another pitch for Congress to raise taxes on people with incomes of more than $1 million.
“It’s not that these folks are excited about paying more taxes,” Mr. Obama said of the eight executives who stood with him on a stage at the White House. “I have yet to meet people who just love to pay taxes.”
But the president again urged the Senate, in at least his 21st comments on the tax increase since the fall, to approve the so-called “Buffett rule” when lawmakers vote Monday. The legislation would require people with incomes of more than $1 million to pay at least 30 percent in federal income taxes. It’s named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who says it’s not fair for him to pay a lower percentage of taxes than his secretary.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the president is wasting his time — and hurting the economic recovery to boot.
“With millions out of work, gas at nearly $4 a gallon, and the election still seven months away, Republicans are calling on the president to join us in support of the dozens of jobs and energy bills that have passed the House but are stalled in the Democrat-led Senate,” Mr. McConnell said. “We should be focused on jobs and energy legislation that can pass — not tax-hike show votes designed to fail.”
Mr. Obama, whose rationale for the tax increase has shifted from the need for deficit reduction to the need for tax fairness, cited both reasons Wednesday and threw in the impact of the Buffett rule on economic growth in trying to justify the tax increase.
“Right now we’ve got significant deficits that are going to have to be closed,” Mr. Obama said. “Right now we have significant needs if we want to continue to grow this economy … . That means we can’t afford to keep spending more money on tax cuts for wealthy Americans who don’t need them and weren’t even asking for them.”
The campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, criticized the White House for not being able to keep its story straight on the justification for the tax increase.
“President Obama’s White House is still trying to rewrite history on why they’re pushing a tax-hike plan instead of trying to get the economy moving again,” said Romney campaign spokeswoman Andrea Saul. “Maybe that’s because after three years of failed economic policies, the only thing President Obama is able to do is distract from his failure to create jobs and economic growth.”
Mr. Obama derided Republicans for accusing him of trying to redistribute wealth, although he didn’t quite deny it.
“I want to emphasize, this is not simply an issue of redistributing wealth,” Mr. Obama said. “This is not just about fairness. This is about growth. It is also about making investments we need to succeed. And it’s about we as a country being willing to pay for those investments and closing our deficits.”
The legislation would raise about $47 billion over 10 years, while Mr. Obama’s annual budgets have been running deficits of more than $1 trillion. The president acknowledged that adopting the Buffett rule wouldn’t close deficits by itself but said that’s no reason to reject it.
“The Buffett rule is something that will get us moving in the right direction,” he said.
Mr. Obama called on Republican lawmakers to drop their “reflexive” opposition to tax increases and maintained that Reagan supported a similar tax increase in 1985 by closing loopholes in the tax code.
“I’m not the first president to call for this idea that everybody’s got to do their fair share,” he said. “Some years ago, one of my predecessors traveled across the country, pushing for the same concept. That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan. He thought that in America, the wealthiest should pay their fair share.”
Data show that the vast majority of wealthy Americans already pay a higher rate in taxes than the middle class. But the White House said 1 in 4 millionaires pays tax rates lower than people earning between $100,000 to $250,000 and that nearly 1,500 millionaires are paying no federal income tax.
Nearly half of Americans pay no federal income tax, according to the IRS.
Former President George W. Bush, in a speech Tuesday in New York, expressed his opposition to a tax increase on “the so-called rich.”
“Most small businesses pay taxes at the individual income tax level,” Mr. Bush said, adding that 70 percent of new jobs are created by small businesses. “Therefore, if you raise taxes on the so-called rich, you’re really raising taxes on the job creators.”