Targeting the rich, Obama takes Democrats back to their roots
By saying the rich should pay their 'fair share' in taxes, President Obama is taking up an argument that Democrats have largely avoided for years. With a presidential election and 'supercommittee' budget cuts in the balance, the political stakes could hardly be higher.
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“My own personal preference would be lower still – and certainly not higher rates on capital, because it would only choke off economic growth,” he added.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures The richest people in the United States
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Meanwhile, on the Senate floor, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California challenged Republicans for claiming that such questions amounted to class warfare. “Is it class warfare to say to a millionaire or billionaire that they should pay the same tax rate as their secretary?” she said. “Why the tears? These are not the job creators.”
The themes of wealth and fairness have waxed and waned in US politics. In the New Deal and Depression era, conservatives attacked liberals as engaging in class politics. Liberals attacked conservatives and business for going after workers and the middle class.
During the Obama presidency, the definition of who counts as rich has shifted. Early on, the president focused on incomes over $250,000 as the cutoff for policies targeting the rich. Recently, the White House and congressional Democrats refer most often to millionaires and billionaires.
“I can’t tell you what rich is, but it’s clear to me,” says Sen John Rockefeller (D) of West Virginia. “It depends on what people are facing: $250,000 isn’t enough to cover college costs, so rich may be $500,000 or $1 million.”
GOP strategists say that Americans are wary of attacks on the rich, because they hope for success in their own lives. “There is not the resentment of success in America that there is in Europe and other countries around the globe,” says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “Democrats never seem to learn that lesson.”
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Sixty-five percent of American voters say that “the maximum percentage that the federal government should take from any individual’s income should be 20 percent or lower,” according to a recent poll by Resurgent Republic, a Republican polling consortium. Other polls, worded differently, find support as high as 72 percent for increasing taxes on the richest Americans.
IN PICTURES: The richest people in the United States