Obama to criticize Ryan budget plan

KEN THOMAS Associated Press Published:

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Making a pitch to middle-class voters, President Barack Obama intends to strike back Tuesday at a budget plan promoted by House Republicans, which the White House says will hurt the pocketbooks of working families.

Obama, in a speech to newspaper executives, was expected to sharply criticize a $3.5 trillion budget proposal pushed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., which passed on a near-party-line vote last week. The plan has faced fierce resistance from Democrats, who say it would gut Medicare, slash taxes for the wealthy and lead to deep cuts to crucial programs such as aid to college students and highway and rail projects.

Obama's pitch to the middle class came as Republican Mitt Romney looked to solidify his grip on his party's presidential nomination in primary contests in Wisconsin, Maryland and Washington, D.C. The White House has appeared increasingly focused on Romney, with Obama's campaign criticizing the former Massachusetts governor by name in an energy ad as the president's team seeks to frame the election as a referendum on the economic security of middle-class voters.

White House advisers billed the speech -- to be delivered during The Associated Press luncheon of editors and publishers -- as an important marker for the president as he seeks re-election. Senior administration officials said the address would build upon themes the president delivered in Kansas last fall, in which he called the nation's economic challenges a "make-or-break moment" for the middle class, and in his State of the Union address, in which he laid out his election-year agenda.

Ryan's proposal aims to slash the deficit and the size of government while offering sharply lower tax rates in return for eliminating many popular tax breaks. GOP front-runner Mitt Romney and his Republican rivals have said they would support Ryan's budget plan, which has little chance of passing the Democratic-controlled Senate but lays out the GOP's fiscal priorities.

On taxes, Obama is also expected to call for economic fairness encapsulated by the so-called "Buffett Rule," arguing that the wealthy shouldn't pay a smaller share of their income in federal taxes than middle-class taxpayers. Many wealthy taxpayers earn investment income, which is taxed at 15 percent, and Obama has proposed that people earning at least $1 million annually -- whether in salary or investments -- should pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

The focus on tax reform has brought attention to the effective tax rate of Romney, a millionaire who is paying 15.4 percent in federal taxes for 2011 on income mostly derived from investments. The top nominal rate for taxpayers with high incomes derived from wages, not including investments, is 35 percent.

Obama was speaking at a luncheon of 900 editors and publishers following The Associated Press' annual meeting. William Dean Singleton, outgoing chairman of the AP Board of Directors and chairman of MediaNews Group Inc., will pose questions to Obama following the president's remarks.