US President Barack Obama wants large tax hikes on millionaires to finance a fair economy for all, a populist vision aimed at convincing crisis-weary voters he merits a second White House term.
In his annual State of the Union address late on Tuesday — which this year served as a grand kick-off of his 2012 re-election campaign, Obama played on rising anger over inequality in the wake of the 2008 economic collapse.
“We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by,” he said.
“Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules,” he said, as part of a wide-ranging speech mainly focused on domestic policy priorities.
Obama began the annual ritual — his best chance for months to directly reach millions of voters — by recalling two of his biggest achievements: killing al-Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden and ending the nine-year Iraq war.
Later he touched on the deepening nuclear showdown with Iran, which has exposed him to charges of weakness from Republican White House hopefuls.
“Let there be no doubt. America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal,” Obama said, earning a standing ovation in the House of Representatives. “But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better.”
He said the “defining issue” of our time was how to safeguard the basic “American promise” that hard work could provide a decent living, defending his efforts to revive the economy, the central issue of the campaign.
He proposed using the power of government to close the gap between the super-rich and the middle class, throwing down a gauntlet to Republicans who charge he stifled the recovery with burdensome regulation.
Obama touted the creation of more than 3 million jobs in less than two years, said he had saved the US auto industry and predicted American manufacturing, the engine of the economy, would rise again.
“The state of our union is getting stronger, and we’ve come too far to turn back now,” Obama said, delivering a sharp warning to Republicans expected to block almost all of the jobs and recovery plans contained in his speech.
“I will oppose any effort to return to the very same policies that brought on this economic crisis in the first place,” he said to loud cheers from Democrats and mostly icy silence from Republicans.
He held up the heroism of the Navy SEAL team that snuffed out bin Laden in a daring Pakistan raid last year as a metaphor for the way feuding US politicians should join together in the interest of national renewal.
“The mission only succeeded because every member of that unit trusted each other — because you can’t charge up those stairs, into darkness and danger, unless you know there is someone behind you, watching your back,” he said. “So it is with America.”
Among the job creation and economic measures, Obama demanded millionaires pay at least 30 percent tax rates, tapping into public anger at low rates paid by the rich, including his possible Republican election foe, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.
Romney on Tuesday reported income of US$21.7 million in 2010 from investments and an estimated US$20.9 million last year — and in 2010 paid just over US$3 million in taxes, or 13.9 percent.