(CNN) - President Barack Obama hit back Friday at a charge lobbed at him from Republican presidential candidates, saying the suggestion he's inciting class warfare was flat wrong.
Speaking to Democratic lawmakers at a retreat on Maryland's Eastern Shore, Obama said he would actively rebut that charge in the coming election year.
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"This is one of the biggest things I'm going to be pushing back on this year, this notion that this is somehow class warfare, that we're trying to stir up envy," Obama said. "Nobody envies rich people, everybody wants to be rich. Everybody aspires to be rich, and everybody understands you've got work hard to be successful. That's the American way."
Candidates seeking the 2012 GOP presidential nomination have accused Obama of pitting 'haves' against 'have nots,' saying his rhetoric and policies amount to redistribution of wealth.
In his victory speech the night of New Hampshire's primary, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Obama was a "leader who divides us with the bitter politics of envy," suggesting his proposals boiled down to an indictment of free enterprise.
Fellow candidate Newt Gingrich has also made the argument Obama is engaging in class warfare, saying in December the president has a "European radical attitude toward class warfare."
In his speech Friday, Obama reiterated a core theme from this week's State of the Union address by calling for the end of tax cuts and loopholes benefiting the country's top earners. Obama assured lawmakers the plan would prove popular with voters.
"We're going to push hard for the Buffett rule," Obama said, making reference to a proposal named for billionaire Warren Buffett that would look to ensure a higher tax rate for the rich.
Obama continued, "We're going to push hard to make sure someone making over a million dollars a year aren't getting tax breaks and tax subsidies they don't need, not out of envy, but out of a sense of fairness and a sense of mutual responsibility and a sense of commitment for the country's future, and that's what we're fighting for. The American people understand that."
In a year when campaign trail arguments seem poised to eclipse meaningful legislation, Obama said Democrats must remain mindful of passing important measures.
"Even as we engage in a robust debate with the other side, I want us all to remember there are still folks out there counting on us and still people out there hurting," Obama said. "Whenever we have an opportunity, whenever there is the possibility that the other side is putting some politics aside for a nanosecond in order to get something done for the American people, we've got to be right there ready to meet them."