Washington: President Barack Obama`s campaign team attacked Mitt Romney on Tuesday for not paying his "fair share" of taxes, escalating attacks on the top Republican presidential contender in a bid to paint him as elitist.
Obama, who has made tax fairness a key part of his re-election message, will pile on the pressure later in the day in Florida where he will urge support for the Buffett Rule, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett. It calls for people making over $1 million a year to be taxed at a higher rate than middle-class families.
Republicans dismissed the speech as a political stunt and 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.
Obama`s populist message is a clear swipe at Romney, the wealthy Republican front-runner likely to face him in the November 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.
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.
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.
Obama`s speech, in a vital election battleground state, comes ahead of a vote in the Democratic-controlled Senate on the Buffett Rule on April 16, the day before the income tax filing deadline.
Even if it passes 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.
"This is all the president has left to fix the economy - a plan to divide America with a tax that will raise one tenth of a percent of his spending spree," the Republican National Committee said in a statement.
This was a reference to Obama`s emergency spending measures to boost the economy in 2009, compared with an estimated $47 billion in revenue the Buffett Rule would raise.
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.
Tax rates on top earners have been lowered steadily by Congress from a peak of 94 percent during World War Two and are 35 percent at the moment.
They were cut by former President George W. Bush, a Republican, in 2001 and 2003, but those tax cuts are due to expire at the end of 2012, when the top rate will go back up to 39.6 percent, which was its level for most of the 1990s.
The Buffett Rule would ensure that households with incomes of more than $1 million pay at least 30 percent in taxes. Many wealthy households pay at a lower rate because much of their income is from dividends, which currently are taxed at a 15 percent rate.
"We have a tax system that`s rigged against the average person, rigged in favor of the very wealthy. We need to fix that, and this Buffett Rule will address that," Obama campaign adviser David Axelrod told MSNBC`s "Morning Joe" program.