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Obama team slams Romney for not paying 'fair share' of taxes

Alister Bull, Reuters

U.S. President Barack Obama does push-ups while playing basketball during the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn in Washington April 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

U.S. President Barack Obama does push-ups while playing basketball during the 2012 White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn in Washington April 9, 2012. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- President Barack Obama’s campaign team attacked Mitt Romney on Tuesday for not paying his “fair share” of taxes, escalating rhetoric against the top Republican presidential hopeful to try to paint him as an elitist who is out of touch with ordinary Americans.

Obama, who has made tax fairness a key part of his re-election message, will pile on the pressure later in the day at a speech in Florida, urging support for the Buffett Rule, named after billionaire investor and Obama supporter Warren Buffett.

It calls for people making over $1 million a year to be taxed at a higher rate than middle-class families.

“Right now, the share of our national income flowing to the top 1 percent has climbed to levels last seen in the 1920s. And yet those same people are also paying taxes at one of the lowest rates in 50 years,” Obama will say at Florida Atlantic University, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks.

Obama’s populist message is a clear swipe at Romney, the wealthy Republican front-runner likely to face him in the Nov. 6 election, as the Democratic president seeks to appeal to blue-collar voters he will need to win a second term.

“Mitt Romney opposes the Buffett Rule - he thinks millionaires and billionaires should keep paying lower tax rates than middle-class families. In fact, Romney himself isn’t paying his fair share,” the Obama campaign said in a statement.

The criticism on taxes is the second full-on assault against Romney in less than a week from the Obama campaign as it becomes clear that the former Massachusetts governor is likely to be the Republican candidate in November’s election.

The attacks signal a start to the general election campaign after months of Republican primaries which look likely to end with Romney as nominee.

A Washington Post-ABC poll on Tuesday showed Obama would win a match-up against Romney by 51 percent to 44 percent. But Romney had a double-digit advantage among Americans when it comes to reducing the federal budget deficit, and a narrow edge on managing the economy.

Obama’s push on tax fairness may also be falling on deaf ears in the swing states where the general election will likely be decided.

In 12 battleground states, 80 percent of independent voters lacking strong views on either Obama or Romney said they prefer a candidate who focuses on creating economic opportunity rather than reducing income inequality, according to a poll by the moderate Democratic group Third Way released on Monday.

’OUT OF IDEAS’

Republicans complain that increasing taxes on the wealthy would do nothing to create jobs or lower gasoline prices at the pump, which are the issues they say ordinary Americans care most about.

“This is yet another sign that they’re out of ideas and simply focused on tax hike show-votes,” said Mitch McConnell, the top Senate Republican.

One of the richest men ever to seek the White House, Romney’s tax returns from 2010 and 2011 show he paid an effective tax rate of 14.5 percent during the two-year period.

Many of the wealthy pay at a lower rate because much of their income is from dividends, which currently are taxed at a 15 percent rate.

“That’s wrong. It isn’t fair. And it’s time for us to choose which direction we want to go in as a country,” Obama will say in his speech in a vital election battleground state.

The Democratic-controlled Senate will take up the Buffett Rule on April 16, the day before the income tax filing deadline.

Even if it passed the Senate it is unlikely to make it through the House of Representatives, which is in Republican hands. Republicans oppose the measure and said it showed their opponents were trying to distract voters from their failure to boost growth or curb high unemployment.

American Crossroads, the biggest Republican Super PAC, backed a Facebook petition calling on Obama and Buffett to pay more taxes themselves if they believe rates are too low.

“President Obama and Warren Buffett are deeply troubled about how low their taxes are. Nothing is stopping them from paying more in taxes voluntarily,” the petition says.

A White House report released earlier on Tuesday found taxes on America’s highest earners have fallen sharply since 1995.

It estimated the 400 highest income households in the country, all earning more than $110 million, paid an average of 18.1 percent of their income in federal taxes in 2007, well down from 29.9 percent those households paid in 1995.

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