By JIM KUHNHENN and STEVE PEOPLES, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is launching a tough new tax-equality pitch in a television advertisement asserting that Republican rival Mitt Romney's economic proposals would mean cuts for the wealthiest Americans and higher bills for everyone else.
The latest offensive comes as Obama and Romney take their respective election campaigns to three of the most contested states — Florida, Colorado and Virginia — and as a bitterly divided Congress pushes toward a summer recess with votes that center on front-burner issues like taxes and spending but which are mostly symbolic place-holders for November.
The Obama campaign ad, which will be aired in eight states including the two the president was visiting Thursday, cites a report by the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center that argues Romney has paid a lower proportion of his income in taxes than many people of lesser means. "He pays less, you pay more," the ad says.
Obama was traveling to Florida and Virginia on Thursday and Romney was headed to Colorado, where he was to appear with 10 Republican governors, some mentioned as potential running mates, at an event near Aspen.
In the capital, the Republican-controlled House on Wednesday cast partisan votes on tax measures that also underscored Washington's political stalemate. Led by the GOP, the House approved a universal extension of Bush-era tax cuts, just a week after the Democratic-controlled Senate voted in favor of Obama's plan for continuing current tax rates only for households earning less than $250,000 or for individuals under $200,000.
With the tax issue dominating the current debate, Obama was visiting two states that represent the bookends of the national economy. Florida is among the states hardest hit by the housing bust and has an unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, higher than the national average and tied for 39th among the 50 states. Virginia, on the other hand, has the 10th lowest unemployment at 5.6 percent.
Colorado, where Romney was to give a campaign address at a fairgrounds in Golden before joining Republican governors at high school in Basalt, has been struggling with a jobless rate equal to the national average of 8.2 percent. For Romney, the trip west is his first political campaign appearance since returning from an overseas trip heavy on foreign policy.
As if to emphasize the challenge facing the presidential contenders, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday said the U.S. economy was losing strength. The Fed took no new action to boost the economy, but it appeared to signal an inclination to take steps to stimulate job creation if the economic deceleration continued.
The next major marker of economic health comes Friday, when the government announces July hiring and unemployment trends.
Economists forecast that U.S. employers added 100,000 jobs in July. That would be slightly better than the 75,000-a-month average from April through June but still below the healthy 226,000 average in the first three months of the year.
Romney's appearance with governors would not only create a show of force, but it also would underscore his own role as a former governor of Massachusetts. And it would tease speculation about his pick for a running mate, as those with him will include governors such as New Jersey's Chris Christie, Louisiana's Bobby Jindal, South Carolina's Nikki Haley and Virginia's Bob McDonnnell, all of whom have been mentioned as possible Romney picks. Absent will be two of the most often mentioned possibilities, Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty.
Obama was headed to Orlando to make up for an appearance he postponed last month after the shooting tragedy in Aurora, Colo. Orlando is in the middle of a Florida swath that separates the Republican-leaning north of the state and the Democratic-leaning south.