State of the Union 2012: Obama Demands Higher Taxes for Millionaires [Video]

President Barack Obama used his last State of the Union speech before the November election to paint himself as the champion of the middle class, by demanding higher taxes for millionaires and tight reins on Wall Street.

President Barack Obama used Tuesday’s State of the Union address to lay out a vision of America in which everybody gets a fair shot at economic success and everybody – including the wealthy – plays by the same rules as the average citizen, reports The Huff Post.

Focusing on economic issues, Mr Obama set the scene for an election that will be fought over jobs and restoring the national finances, with US unemployment still running at 8.5 per cent and a soaring $15 trillion national debt that continues to rise.

According to The Telegraph, Mr Obama pledged to increase spending on education, infrastructure and job creation and help pay for it by asking millionaires to pay at least 30 per cent in taxes.

“Teachers matter. So instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo, let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones. And in return, grant schools flexibility: to teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn,” the president said.

Obama’s address, which came in the midst of a rapidly escalating presidential campaign season, delivered a strong message about the need for social and economic equality and put forward a handful of new policy ideas targeting tax reform, college affordability and clean energy.

But by and large, his speech was focused on proposals for boosting the economy and ensuring protections for the middle class.

The call to increase taxes on the rich came hours after Mitt Romney, the multi-millionaire Republican presidential hopeful, released tax returns showing that he paid just 14 per cent on earnings of more than $21m.

Citing the example of Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who admitted last year that he paid lower tax rates than his secretary, Mr Obama called on Washington to “stop subsidising millionaires” and rescind a trillion dollars of tax breaks for the wealthiest 2 per cent.

“Now, you can call this class warfare all you want. But asking a billionaire to pay at least as much as his secretary in taxes? Most Americans would call that common sense,” Mr Obama said.

To underscore his point, Buffett’s secretary, Debbie Bosanek, was seated in the first lady’s box in the House of Representatives for Obama’s address.

Obama laid out some notable new policy proposals, including the creation of a new international minimum tax on U.S. companies making profits overseas; the launching of a new trade enforcement unit that would target unfair trade practices in countries around the world, including China; and a plan to shift federal aid away from colleges that don’t keep down tuition costs.

He also announced that the Defense Department will make history’s largest renewable energy purchase — totaling 1 gigawatt. The president can use his executive power to make the last item happen.

Obama’s rhetoric and his audience’s response was more overtly partisan than last year when both sides sought a tone of civility in the aftermath of an assassination attempt on Democratic Arizona lawmaker Gabrielle Giffords.

In the most emotional moment of the evening, Obama warmly embraced Giffords as he made his way to the podium, Reuters reports. The congresswoman, who has made a remarkable recovery after being shot in the head, announced on Sunday she was retiring from Congress.

The response to Giffords was one of the few moments of bipartisan enthusiasm in a Congress riven by antagonism.

Obama concluded by emphasizing “the nation is great” because it was built by people who worked together as a team, which is the best way to get back to economic prosperity.

“The nation is great because we get each other’s backs. And if we hold fast to that truth, in this moment of trial, there is no challenge too great, no mission too hard. As long as we’re joined in common purpose, as long as we maintain our common resolve, our journey moves forward, our future is hopeful, and the state of our Union will always be strong.”

Obama will shift into full campaign mode on a three-day tour starting on Wednesday to Iowa, Arizona, Nevada, Colorado and Michigan, all election battleground states.

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