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Obama slams Romney on tax rate, wealth, "47 percent"

U.S. President Barack Obama (L) gestures towards Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as he answers a question during the second U.S.
U.S. President Barack Obama (L) gestures towards Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney as he answers a question during the second U.S.

By Kim Dixon

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - In what amounted to a do-over on the subject of wealth and fairness, President Barack Obama took aim on Tuesday night at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney's personal finances, his tax plan and his once-private comment about the "47 percent" of Americans who don't pay income taxes.

Obama's aggressive approach on those issues contrasted sharply with his restraint in their first matchup in Denver on October 3, when he avoided entirely the now-famous 47 percent comment, taped at a fundraiser in May.

Obama zeroed in on Romney's 14 percent tax rate, the roughly $20 million he earned in a recent year and his investments in China. He cheekily joked during their second debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, that Romney's pension was likely fatter than his.

"When he said behind closed doors that 47 percent of the country considered themselves victims, who refuse personal responsibility, think about who he was talking about," Obama said Tuesday, noting many in that group who are the elderly, veterans and students.

And once again, he went after Romney's tax plans which the president said favored the rich.

Romney, a former Massachusetts governor and co-founder of investment firm Bain Capital, defended his proposal to slash all Americans' tax rates by 20 percent.

Romney's own - albeit indirect - reference to the 47 percent remarks came as he responded to a question about misperceptions held about him. He said he cared "about 100 percent of the American people. I want 100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future."

Romney also pledged that the top 5 percent wealthiest Americans would continue to pay 60 percent of all federal income taxes.

That is roughly the amount of federal income taxes that the richest 5 percent pay, according to the Tax Policy Center.

The 47 percent figure also comes from that research group, although it has been widely noted that many of those individuals are either senior citizens or the working poor using popular tax credits.

Sticking to his previous tax policy statements, Romney pledged to cut taxes for the middle class but keep the wealthy paying the same share of taxes.

One undecided voter, among those selected to question the candidates Tuesday night, asked Romney how he would fund the cut, reflecting a frequent criticism of his proposal.

"I'm going to bring rates down across the board for everybody, but I'm going to limit deductions and exemptions and credits, particularly for people at the high end," Romney said.

During a squabble about whether Romney had investments in Chinese companies, Romney said his investments were managed by a blind trust.

Romney asked Obama if he knew what was in his retirement plan.

"It's not as big as yours," Obama said, in a dig at Romney's wealth.

(Reporting By Kim Dixon; Editing by Fred Barbash and Eric Walsh)

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