WASHINGTON President Barack Obama will frame an election-year State of the Union address on Tuesday in starkly populist terms by calling for tax reform to get rid of inequalities that allow the wealthy to pay a lower rate than middle-class Americans.
His message follows the release of tax records by Mitt Romney, a potential Republican rival and one of the wealthiest men to ever run for the White House. With income mostly from investments, Romney pays an effective tax rate that is much lower than the top tax rates on wages.
"Millions of Americans who work hard and play by the rules every day deserve a government and a financial system that does the same," Obama said in advance excerpts for his 9 p.m. EST (0200 GMT Wednesday) speech to Congress.
"It's time to apply the same rules from top to bottom: No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts."
Taxes are the most divisive issue at the heart of this year's election campaign. Obama, seeking a second term despite a slow economic recovery and a high jobless rate, hopes to tap into middle-class voters' resentment against Wall Street while their families are hurting.
Democrats have hammered Republicans in Congress for supporting tax breaks that favor the wealthy while Republicans staunchly oppose tax hikes, even on the richest Americans, arguing they would hurt a fragile economic recovery.
Obama was set to revive his call to rewrite the tax code to adopt the so-called "Buffett rule," named after the billionaire Warren Buffett, who supports the president and says it is unfair that he, Buffett, pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Obama is also expected to roll out new initiatives on easing the nation's home-mortgage crisis and reforming the corporate tax system.
Most of Obama's proposals will face stiff Republican resistance, limiting the chance of any headway in a divided Congress before the November 6 election.
Although Obama is fully aware of the legislative obstacles, his aides see this approach scoring political points by turning up the heat on Republicans he accuses of obstructing economic recovery.
"We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well, while a growing number of Americans barely get by," Obama will say. "Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share."
The U.S. unemployment rate was 8.5 percent in December. No president in the modern era has won re-election with the rate that high.
(Editing by David Storey)