President Obama speaks at a town hall meeting in the Bay Area city of Mountain… (Stephen Lam / Getty Images )
Reporting from Mountain View, Calif. — It's not often that people plead with a president to raise their taxes. But at a town hall event in Silicon Valley, President Obama found an audience in sync with his argument that the wealthy should pay higher taxes so there is enough money to nurture a struggling economy without slashing other programs.
Looking out at the crowd Monday, Obama called on a retired Google employee, Doug Edwards, who said, "My question is, would you please raise my taxes?"
The audience applauded.
The question was the ultimate softball for Obama, a chance to lay out his case for raising taxes on affluent Americans. His aim is to cut the deficit but preserve funding for college scholarships, research, public works and other projects.
Last week, Obama released a deficit reduction plan that relies on $1.5 trillion in additional tax revenue. The wealthiest Americans have made enormous gains at the expense of the middle class in the last few decades and can afford a higher tax bill, the president said.
Congressional Republicans have balked at his demand; they describe high-income earners as "job creators" and are hesitant to add to their tax burden, creating a standoff that is likely to persist through the 2012 election.
At the town hall, sponsored by the professional networking site LinkedIn, Obama said the issue was one of basic fairness.
"The income of those at the top has gone up exponentially over the last couple of decades, whereas the incomes and wages of the middle class have flat-lined over the last 15 years," he said.
Obama returned to the subject later Monday at a fundraiser at West Hollywood's House of Blues nightclub, where he mocked Republicans for calling his fiscal agenda "class warfare."
"If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a plumber is class warfare, then sign me up," Obama told hundreds of supporters.
The president, who remains popular in California despite his national slump, urged the crowd to press members of Congress to approve not only higher taxes on the wealthy but also new spending on roads and bridges and the rest of his economic agenda. The nation, he said, cannot "just cut our way out of this problem."
"We're laying off teachers in droves right here in California," he said. "It doesn't make any sense. It's unfair to our kids."
Obama's events took place on the second day of a three-day Western trip that includes seven campaign fundraising appearances. The House of Blues event cost $250 a ticket, and a dinner later at the Fig and Olive restaurant came in at $17,900 a ticket, half the legal maximum.
At each stop in the trip, Obama has sought to convince voters that partisan fighting in Washington has reached a level that endangers the economy. Speaking to donors near Seattle on Sunday, he cited the ongoing dispute between the parties over increased aid for victims of disasters.
"And what makes it worse is that some of the Republicans who are opposing this disaster relief, it's their constituents who have been hit harder than anyone else by these natural disasters," Obama said.
Obama has also used the trip to try to show empathy for people buffeted by the harsh job market, though at times he failed to connect. Toward the end of the Mountain View town hall, he was questioned by an African American man who had lost his job in information technology. The man mentioned that the unemployment rate for blacks is nearly 17% and asked what Obama would say to encourage African Americans and other groups that are "also suffering."
Obama did not address the issue directly, instead offering an analysis that touched on energy price disruptions, the life cycle of recessions and the European debt crisis. He encouraged the man to "hang in" until the economy recovers and predicted he would find work again.
The president repeatedly praised his $447-billion jobs package, the American Jobs Act. Passing it, he said at the town hall meeting, is the "most important thing that we can do right now to help jump-start the economy."
After the event, the voluntarily retired guest who asked Obama to raise his taxes said he was part of a group of "patriotic millionaires."
"I really wanted to encourage him and let him know there are people like me who support raising taxes on people who can afford it the most," said Edwards, 53.
Times staff writer Michael Finnegan contributed to this report.