“The defining issue of our time is how to keep that promise alive,” he added. “No challenge is more urgent. No debate is more important.”
Obama spoke as the top Republican candidates for the presidency are debating economic fairness on their own terms, with Romney, a former venture-capital chief executive, defending his large income and relatively low tax rate.
Romney released tax returns Tuesday that show he paid an effective tax rate of 13.9 percent on his 2010 income of $21.6 million. He estimates payment of an effective rate of 15.4 percent on income of $20.9 million in 2011 — below the rate that the White House says many middle-class families pay.
To make the case for a host of economic proposals he is likely to unveil in the speech, Obama invited the billionaire investor Warren Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, to sit with the first lady in the House chamber for the speech.
Bosanek is the inspiration for the president’s call for wealthier Americans to pay a higher tax rate, known as the “Buffett rule,” which Obama first announced in September but described Tuesday in the most detail to date.
The Buffett rule — which the president said was developed after the billionaire investor said he paid a lower effective tax rate than his secretary — forms a key component of Obama’s plan to boost short-term spending to help create jobs for the middle class.
But Obama’s advisers said he will not include the tax rate or the deductions he believes should be eliminated for the wealthiest Americans in his budget, which he is scheduled to present next month. As a result, it serves more as a political marker than a firm proposal.
“Let’s never forget: Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same,” Obama said. “It’s time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: no bailouts, no handouts, and no cop-outs. An America built to last insists on responsibility from everybody.”
Congressional Republicans have vowed to oppose any new revenue — including a higher tax rates for millionaires — at a time when the national deficit continues to soar and Congress is trying to identify $1.5 trillion in budget cuts agreed to last summer.
At the Capitol, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday that Obama’s policies “are just going to double down on what hasn’t worked.” He said “the politics of envy, the politics of dividing our country is not what our country is all about.”
Congressional Republicans have expressed deep concern over the size and expense of the federal government, favoring a reduction in spending and tax cuts to spur economic growth rather than spending.
In a statement, U.S. Chamber of Commerce president Thomas J. Donohue said “too many of the solutions he proposed rest on higher taxes, more spending, and an avalanche of new regulations. “
“The way to create the jobs Americans need is to grow our free enterprise economy, not to further expand the federal government.,” he said.
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