WASHINGTON -- Both sides drew sharp partisan lines Monday over the Buffett Rule tax for millionaires, setting up what is almost certainly going to be a failing vote in the Senate.
Democrats began by touting their argument that the tax system is broken when it lets billionaire Warren Buffett pay a lower tax rate than his secretary. The Buffett Rule would repair that by making people who earn more than 1 million dollars a year pay a tax rate of up to 30 percent.
On a conference call with reporters, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said it was a matter of fairness and a "simple" concept that secretaries shouldn't pay a greater share than their bosses to the IRS. He also noted that the measure would save $47 billion over 10 years.
Republicans countered that the Monday evening vote is a political gimmick -- cooked up by President Barack Obama's campaign team -- that ignores the nation's critical problems, starting with it's mounting debt.
“The problem is, we’ve got a president who seems more interested in pitting people against each other than he is in actually doing what it takes to face these challenges head on and to solve them in a bipartisan manner," said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), arguing that the Buffett Rule will never pass.
"By wasting so much time on this political gimmick that even Democrats admit won’t solve our larger problems, it’s shown the president is more interested in misleading people than he is in leading," McConnell said.
"President Obama looked at the options in front of him, sat down with his political advisers, and he said, you know what, let’s go with the poll-tested tax increase on investment and job creation that won’t fix anything and won’t pass anyway, instead of actually doing something about the debt and the deficit," McConnell continued.
Democrats found McConnell's positions disingenuous, arguing that a GOP-waged filibuster would be the only reason for the Buffett Rule's failure.
"All of their arguments just don't stand up because they're so afraid of this issue," Schumer said. "Are they for it or against it? They say, 'Well, it won't pass.' It won't pass because they are opposed to it," he said, adding that Republicans are the ones guilty of chicanery.
"The gimmick is when they block something and say, 'Let's not pay attention to it because we won't let it pass," Schumer said. "If they think fairness is a gimmick, if they think that having people pay their fair share is a gimmick, then they're just completely out of touch with the American people."
The bill's lead sponsor, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), also took issue with the idea that $47 billion in deficit reduction amounted to doing very little.
"When you consider that the Republicans tried to, for instance, shut down a $900,000 emergency response center in Whitefish, Mont., and called a special vote on that in the Senate, it seems to be a new standard for them that $47 billion isn't real money," Whitehouse said. "It becomes very small money, I guess, when you're trying to have fair tax rates and take away the gimmick that allows these multi- multi-millionaires and billionaires to pay the low tax rates."
Schumer vowed to keep bringing the Buffett Rule back until Republicans give in, the way they did on the payroll tax cut fight.
"We'll keep pushing this issue all year long, and we think we'll pick up more and more Republicans," Schumer said.
He added that the idea is not just to score campaign points, but to show people that Democrats are more in line with them on tax policy, and to ultimately pass the bill.
"The point is not simply to bring [more Buffett Rule votes] up for the sake of bringing them up, but rather as pressure mounts on the other side -- who is out of touch with what the American people want -- they often are willing to go along," Schumer said. "We believe we can actually pass something."
He added that the likely presence of Mitt Romney atop the GOP presidential ticket would help, because Romney has already been dubbed a poster child for the issue after paying a 13.9 percent tax rate on his last public return -- less than many in the middle class.
"It could be called the Buffett Rule, it could be called the Romney Rule," Schumer said. "I don't think he's going to want to have this present inequity remain when he's an example of it."
House Republicans are planning to counter the Buffett Rule push later this week with an attempt to cut taxes. A proposal by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) would cut small business taxes by 20 percent. Since his bill would provide a disproportionately large benefit for the wealthy, it will mark an especially sharp contrast with the Democratic measure.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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