By Jeff Mason
CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (Reuters) - President Barack Obama took his message for "tax fairness" on the campaign trail on Tuesday, visiting the election battleground state of Iowa to tout calls for middle-class tax relief and paint Republicans as the party that favors the rich.
A day after he proposed extending Bush-era tax cuts for families making less than $250,000 annually, Obama told a campaign rally that if Congress did not act, the average family of four would have to pay about $2,200 more in taxes next year.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his congressional allies want to extend the cuts for all income levels. They say the president's move would hurt small businesses that are creating jobs.
To counter that attack, Obama took his argument on the road in the first of several campaign stops this week that are likely to highlight differences between the two candidates on taxation and fighting the deficit.
"We should make sure the taxes on the 98 percent of Americans don't go up and then we should let the tax cuts expire for folks like me, for the top 2 percent of Americans," Obama, his top shirt button undone and tie casually askew, told a cheering crowd of about 1,600 at a local community college.
"To give me another tax break, or to give Warren Buffett another tax break or to give Mitt Romney another tax break, that would cost ... about a trillion dollars. And we can't afford it," he said.
The Democratic president's emphasis over two days on tax relief gave him an opportunity to shift attention away from his handling of the economy after government data last week showed another month of weak job growth.
Obama's campaign portrays Romney, a former private equity executive with a net worth estimated at up to $250 million, as rich and out of touch with the concerns of ordinary voters.
Aside from the president's proposal, the Democratic campaign has pushed hard in recent days for Romney to release more of his tax returns and to explain his overseas accounts.
In April, Romney estimated his tax liability at $3.2 million for last year, having released estimates in January indicating he expected his family's income for 2011 to be $20.9 million. That would put his tax rate at about 15.3 percent, far below the top U.S. tax rate on wages of 35 percent.
Obama and his wife, Michelle, paid an effective tax rate of 20.5 percent on income of $789,674 last year, the White House said. They earned about half their income from his presidential salary of $395,000 and the rest from book sales. � In a speech in Las Vegas, Vice President Joe Biden, the campaign's frequent attack dog, poked fun at Romney's reluctance to release all of his tax forms while taking a dig at the Republican's tough stance on illegal immigration, which is unpopular with many American Hispanics.
"Mitt Romney wants you to show your papers, but he won't show us his," Biden said in a speech that reached out to Latinos, according to prepared remarks.
Obama campaigns in Virginia, another important battleground state, later this week.
In Cedar Rapids, Obama met with a local couple, Jason and Ali McLaughlin, who the campaign said had received about $4,900 in tax relief thanks to tax cuts he had enacted while in office.
The couple earns $82,000 a year combined, has a four-year-old son, and is expecting a baby in September. They would face a tax increase of about $2,000 next year if the tax cuts expire.
Iowa has a special history for Obama. His win in the 2008 Democratic caucus here propelled him to his party's nomination and the presidency. But the state remains a political battleground that his campaign is eager to hold.
Recent polls have put Obama and Romney in a very close race in Iowa, as they do at the national level. The state carries six electoral college votes in 2012, which could be vital in a tight White House race in which 270 are needed to win on November 6.
The Obama campaign says it has 14 offices in the state and volunteers in all 99 counties, evidence of the on-the-ground presence it hopes will give the president an edge in overcoming negative ads and turning out voters on election night. (Editing by Alistair Bell and David Brunnstrom)
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