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Obama Pushes ‘Buffett Rule’ in Populist Talk to House Democrats

Warren Buffett
Warren Buffett, chairman and chief executive officer of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

President Barack Obama said he will press Congress to revise tax breaks that help rich Americans pay lower tax rates than many wage-earners, as he rallied congressional Democrats around a populist election-year message.

“We’re going to push hard for the Buffett rule,” Obama told Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives at a party meeting in Cambridge, Maryland.

The president said he’s seeking minimum taxes on wealthy Americans “not out of envy, but out of a sense of fairness, a sense of mutual responsibility.” The proposal’s nickname comes from a statement by Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Chairman Warren Buffett, who has said he shouldn’t pay taxes at a lower rate than his secretary.

Obama told fellow Democrats that the country is “moving in the right direction, thanks to your efforts, thanks to some tough votes that all of you took.”

Although the Commerce Department today said the U.S. economy expanded at a less-than-forecast 2.8 percent annual pace in the fourth quarter, Obama said “we righted the ship, we did not tip into a Great Depression.”

Vice President Joe Biden, speaking to the lawmakers earlier today, said Democrats have a chance to win control of the House of Representatives in November’s election.

“I really do think we’re going to win back the House,” Biden said.

Strategy Session

The House Democrats had gathered at a three-day strategy session, honing plans to win a net 25 seats to regain the House majority they lost in 2010. Democrats now hold 191 House seats, while Republicans have 242. There are two vacancies.

Biden, a former Delaware senator, said he will campaign for Democrats in what are predicted to be tough races in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Iowa, New Hampshire and Florida.

“We cannot succeed unless you all come back,” he told the lawmakers.

In an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted Jan. 22-24, Democrats had a six percentage point edge over Republicans among registered voters who were asked which party they preferred to lead Congress after the next election. The survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percentage points, indicated that public sentiment had shifted in Democrats’ favor. In June, the survey showed that registered voters were evenly split between the parties.

Republicans Helping

“These guys are helping us,” Biden said of Republicans. “They’re helping us by saying what they believe.”

Echoing a theme of Obama’s re-election campaign, Biden said the November election will turn on Democrats painting a “stark contrast” between their policies and those advocated by Republicans. Democrats say that last year’s debate in Congress over federal spending, raising the debt limit and extending a payroll tax cut for workers has helped swing public sentiment in their direction. House Democrats are hoping to rebound from a 63-seat loss in the 2010 midterm election.

House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio is “a good guy” personally, as is House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, though both have been unwilling to compromise, Biden said.

“The truth is, who can you make a deal with?” Biden said. “Who can you reach out and shake hands with and say that we have a bargain?”

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