Obama defends his tax proposals at meeting of Democrats on Eastern Shore

CAMBRIDGE, Md. — Speaking to House Democrats on the Eastern Shore, President Barack Obama said Friday he will push back against GOP criticism that his tax proposals are intended to drive a wedge between the middle class and the wealthy.

The 24-minute address followed his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, and he repeated many of the same themes about the nation's prosperity and income inequality. Republicans have criticized Obama's proposed 30 percent minimum income tax for people earning $1 million or more.

"Nobody envies rich people. Everybody wants to be rich," Obama told the Democratic lawmakers, who are assembled here for their annual conference to map out strategy for the year. "The question is, are we creating an opportunity for everybody?"

The comments capped a week in which income inequality played a prominent role in the Republican presidential campaign. On Tuesday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is seeking the GOP nomination, released income tax returns documenting that he pays a lower tax rate than most Americans because the bulk of his income comes from investments, not a salary.

The annual meeting by House Democrats – Republicans held their own caucus in Baltimore last week — is an opportunity for lawmakers to craft a message and agenda in advance of the November election. Democratic leaders have said they are far more confident than when they met here last year, fresh off a bruising defeat in the 2010 midterm election. In his speech, Obama vowed to help them.

"You guys have had my back through some very tough times," he said. "I'm going to have your back as well."

The three-day meeting, held in the Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay in Cambridge, ended Friday.

In a separate address Friday, Vice President Joe Biden speculated that voters are becoming more disillusioned with Republican leaders and that they are beginning to warm to some of the administration's more controversial policies, including the 2010 health care law.

"These guys are helping us. They're helping us by saying what they believe," Biden said, referencing the Republican presidential candidates. "I really do think we're going to win back the House."

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