President Barack Obama speaks at Florida Atlantic University in Boca...

President Barack Obama speaks at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Fla. (April 10, 2012) Credit: AP

President Barack Obama is intensifying his campaign for higher taxes on top U.S. earners by casting the issue against Republican opposition as one of fairness and support for the middle class.

Obama enlisted Wednesday what the administration described as a group of four millionaires and their assistants, all of whom support the so-called Buffett rule to set a minimum tax on people who earn at least $1 million a year.

The president met with Abigail Disney of the Daphne Foundation, Whitney Tilson of T2 Partners LLC, Frank Jernigan, a retired software engineer from Google Inc., and Lawrence Benenson of Benenson Capital Co. They were accompanied by their assistants.

Obama said the millionaires on the stage with him at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building are "rightly proud of their success." They had agreed to take part in the event because "they haven't been asked to do their fair share" and "they believe there is something deeply wrong and irresponsible about that."

The proposal, which faces Republican opposition in a test vote Monday in the Senate, is named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who says he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, largely because of preferential treatment given to capital gains and dividends.

"They agree with Warren," Obama said of the group.

Tilson, 45, said in an interview at the White House that he and his assistant, Kelli Alires, 47, were "a little shocked" after they calculated their federal tax rates for 2010.

While his adjusted gross income was 39 times that of Alires', Tilson said, he paid a rate of 24.6 percent while Alires paid a rate of 33.4 percent. "It struck both of us as unfair and ridiculous," he said.

Tilson estimated the Buffett rule would increase his federal tax obligation by 40 percent. He said he sees the rule as a necessary component to a long-term deal to reduce deficits and balance the federal budget, along with spending cuts.

Tilson is an Obama donor, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. He and Disney, granddaughter of Roy O. Disney, co-founder of the Walt Disney Co., each has given Obama at least $5,000 over the past year, according to the center's data.

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