Obama's battle against wealthy taxpayers: Smart politics?

The president says he will not extend the Bush tax cuts on yearly incomes above $250,000, setting up a fierce election-year debate over taxes

President Obama's push to extend the Bush tax cuts for middle-class families but not the wealthiest Americans may put Mitt Romney in the uncomfortable position of defending the rich.
(Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

This week, President Obama drew a line in the sand on the Bush tax cuts, saying he will not extend decade-old rate cuts on annual income exceeding $250,000. (Without action from lawmakers, all of the Bush-era cuts will expire at year's end.) But while Obama vowed not to extend tax breaks for millionaires, he also called on Congress to extend the Bush-era tax rates for the 98 percent of Americans who earn less than $250,000 a year, though it's highly unlikely that he'll reach a deal with GOP lawmakers who want an across-the-board extension. Democrats say public opinion is on their side, with more than 60 percent of voters saying wealthier Americans do not pay enough taxes. Meanwhile, Republicans, including Mitt Romney, contend that raising taxes on anyone would hurt the feeble economy. Is Obama's move smart politics?

Yes. Obama has set a trap for Romney: Obama's tax gambit is forcing Romney "to oppose extending tax cuts for the middle class and defend tax cuts for affluent Americans," says Nate Cohn at The New Republic. In addition, Obama and his allies have "launched coordinated attacks on Romney's investments in foreign tax havens, a Swiss bank account, and unwillingness to release more than one year of tax returns," all of which is serving to paint Romney as a "self-interested plutocrat who prioritizes personal wealth over middle class job security." By highlighting the Bush tax cuts, the Obama campaign has created a "powerful synergy" in its assault on Romney's character and policies.

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