LinkedIn Corp. Chief Executive Jeff Weiner and President Obama field a… (Stephen Lam / Getty Images )
Reporting from Mountain View, Calif. — It’s not often that people plead with a president to raise their taxes. But in a town hall event in Silicon Valley, President Obama found an audience in sync with his argument that the rich need to pay higher taxes so there is enough money for college scholarships, research and public works projects.
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 argument for raising taxes on affluent Americans to cut the deficit without slashing the budget for programs to boost the economy.
Last week, Obama released a deficit reduction plan that relies on $1.5 trillion in additional tax revenue. He is making the case that the wealthiest Americans have made enormous gains at the expense of the middle class in the last few decades and can easily cover a higher tax bill.
Congressional Republicans are balking. They’ve resisted attempts to saddle “job creators’’ with a heftier tax burden, creating a standoff that is likely to persist through the 2012 election.
At the town hall event, sponsored by the professional networking site LinkedIn, Obama said the issue is 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.
“We’re not talking about going to punitive rates that would somehow inhibit you from wanting to be part of a start-up or work hard or be successful. We’re talking about going back to the rates that existed as recently as the '90s, when as I recall Silicon Valley was doing pretty good.’’
After the event, Edwards said in an interview that he is part of group of “patriotic millionaires’’ calling for “higher taxes.’’
“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.
Asked whether he was satisfied by Obama’s answer, Edwards said: “I would love to have him say, ‘Yeah, absolutely, we’re going to raise taxes.' But you can’t do that without working with Congress and it’s not entirely up to him.’’
Obama is in the middle of a three-day Western trip that includes seven campaign fundraising events. The White House said the town hall meeting and a visit to a school in Denver on Tuesday are official events not related to the campaign.
In a quartet of fundraising appearances Sunday, Obama struck a partisan chord. He took a swipe at the Republican presidential debates during an event in San Jose.
“I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately?” he said. In a reference to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, he said: “You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.’’
Obama is also using the trip to sell his $447-billion jobs package. Passing the American Jobs Act, he said at the town hall meeting, is the “most important thing that we can do right now to help jump-start the economy.’’
With the economy in a prolonged slump, Obama wants to show empathy for people buffeted by the harsh job market. But at times he has failed to connect. At the town hall, he got a question from an African American man who lost his job in information technology. The man mentioned that the black unemployment rate is nearly 17% and asked what Obama would say to encourage African Americans and other groups that are “also suffering.’’
In his answer, Obama ignored the issue of black unemployment and instead gave 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.
Obama has come under pressure from the Congressional Black Caucus, which says he has not done enough to highlight the black unemployment crisis.