With the presidential campaign in full "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" swing, President Barack Obama's re-election campaign manager Jim Messina on Monday accused Mitt Romney of "hypocrisy" for his attacks on the president as a member of a coddled, out-of-touch, Harvard-educated elite.
"I would brand it simply hypocrisy," Messina told reporters on a conference call. "Romney is also a Harvard graduate."
And Messina mocked Romney's attack as "a little difficult when he's shopping for car elevators" -- a knock on the presumptive Republican presidential nominee's plans to include one in a beachfront California home.
The Obama strategist's comments came on a call designed to promote legislation to implement the "Buffett Rule," a measure inspired by billionaire investor Warren Buffett's claim that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary. The proposal, crafted by Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, aims to ensure that Americans making $1 million per year or more pay at least 30 percent of that income in taxes. The Senate will vote on the measure April 16 -- and it is expected to fail.
But that won't necessarily dull its edge as a political weapon to embarrass Romney, who has made a series of verbal campaign-trail gaffes seen as reinforcing the notion that his vast wealth has left him out of touch with average Americans. Romney, who opposes the legislation, is "the beneficiary of a broken tax system and he wants to keep it that way," said Messina. "Why should Mitt Romney pay a lower tax rate than average Americans?"
The former Massachusetts governor and multimillionaire investor recently released his 2010 and 2011 tax returns, which show he paid an effective tax rate of roughly 14 percent on income of more than $40 million.
"That's what this Buffett Rule fight is about," Messina said on the conference call.
With Obama set to make the case for the Buffett Rule at an event in Florida on Tuesday, White House press secretary Jay Carney disputed the notion that the president was targeting Romney, saying he supported the proposed tax change "long before it was evident who might emerge as the nominee for the other party."
"I think that we hope it will pass. I think that every senator who votes on it will have to examine for himself or herself whether or not they want to vote for a bill that says millionaires and billionaires should not pay taxes on their income at a lower rate than middle-class Americans, or vote against it. And they will have to explain to their constituents why they don't agree with that principle," said Carney. "That's what votes do -- they put senators on record."
Romney campaign communications director Gail Gitcho hit back at the White House, calling Obama "the first president in history to openly campaign for re-election on a platform of higher taxes."
"He has already raised taxes on millions of Americans, but he won't stop there. He wants to raise taxes on millions more by taxing small businesses and job creators. We appreciate the Obama campaign reinforcing Mitt Romney's platform of lowering tax rates across the board in order to jumpstart this bad Obama economy," she said in a statement.
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