CANNON FALLS, Minnesota Small-town Americans probably don't make as much money as Warren Buffett, but they pay more of their income in taxes, President Barack Obama said on Monday, citing the billionaire investor to argue that the government needs more revenues to balance the budget.
Obama referred to an opinion column written by the Berkshire Hathaway Inc chairman as he made the case to about 500 people at a town hall meeting in rural Minnesota that any attempt to close the U.S. deficit gap should include tax increases for the rich as well as spending cuts.
Cannon Falls was the first stop on Obama's three-state bus tour through middle America intended to connect with voters as he embarks on his 2012 re-election campaign.
He is expected to focus on jobs and the economy after a bitter debate in Washington over debt and deficits that triggered a downgrade in the U.S. credit rating.
"I put a deal before the Speaker of the House, John Boehner, that would have solved this problem.
"And he walked away because his belief was we can't ask anything of millionaires and billionaires and big corporations in order to close our deficit," Obama said, referring to the divisive fight with congressional Republicans over how best to deal with the country's massive budget deficit.
In a column headlined "Stop Coddling the Super-Rich," Buffett wrote in The New York Times on Monday that he paid $6,938,744 in income tax last year, only 17.4 percent of his taxable income.
"That's actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office," Buffett wrote. "Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent."
Buffett urged members of a new congressional "supercommittee" looking at ways to balance the budget to raise rates immediately on taxable income in excess of $1 million, and even more for those making more than $10 million.
"My friends and I have been coddled long enough by a billionaire-friendly Congress," Buffett wrote. "It's time for our government to get serious about shared sacrifice."
Congressional Republicans -- and Republican candidates vying for the party's nomination to run against Obama next year -- oppose any increase in taxes. Obama wants taxes to be increased for the wealthiest Americans.
"You don't get those tax breaks. You're paying more than that. Now I may be wrong, but I think you're a little less wealthy than Warren Buffett. Now that's just a guess," Obama said, to laughter from his Minnesota audience.
Republican presidential nomination front-runner Mitt Romney, a multimillionaire ex-businessman, said Buffett had failed to take into account corporate taxes paid by his conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway.
"The problem with rich people is that many of them are smart," Romney said in the key primary state of New Hampshire.
"High taxes on entrepreneurs and investors dissuade them from putting Americans to work," he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle in Washington and Jason McLure in New Hampshire; editing by Todd Eastham)