Senate Republicans defeated a motion to take up Buffett Rule legislation the day before taxes are due.
Democrats fell short of the 60 votes needed to advance the bill late Monday. The final party-line vote was 51 in favor, 45 against, with Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Mark Pryor (D-AR) breaking ranks with their leadership. The sharp contrast promises to be a defining issue in the presidential election this November.
The principle behind the rule — that people making over $1 million a year should pay at least 30 percent in taxes — was championed by President Obama in his State of the Union this year and subsequently written into legislation by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). The rule includes nuances and exceptions aimed at minimizing adverse incentives. It’s expected to raise tax receipts by $47 billion over 10 years, although Democrats say that figure would be at least $160 billion if the Bush tax cuts are extended.
On a larger level, Democrats say the Buffett Rule — named after Warren Buffet, who says it’s wrong that he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — embodies their push for tax fairness. The idea was conceived last year amid a brick wall of GOP opposition against the inclusion of new revenues in any deficit-reduction deal. As a result, Dems are trying to back Republicans into a corner and defend their anti-tax rigidity to its extreme; President Obama has made multiple campaign speeches touting the rule.
The bill is anathema to Republicans — who call it a “gimmick” and refer to it derisively as the “Buffett Tax” — because it goes after the GOP sacred cow of keeping taxes as low as possible on the rich. On the floor before the vote, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell gave a scorching speech in opposition.
“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. “Somewhere along the way, this president seems to have forgotten why he was elected. For him, it’s not about jobs or the economy. It’s about his idea of fairness, about imposing it on others. And if we lose more jobs in the process, so be it.”
A CNN poll released Monday found that 72 percent of Americans support the Buffett Rule.
Before the vote, Democrats vowed to keep fighting for the rule if it goes down. Whitehouse said he’ll work to make sure it’s included in any tax-reform proposals, while Sen. Chuck Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat, said Dems will force the GOP, including its presumptive presidential nominee Mitt Romney, to buckle under public pressure.
“We’re going to come back to this issue repeatedly,” Schumer told reporters on a conference call. “If you keep at these issues … as pressure mounts on the other side, they often are willing to go along. And that gets truer as you get closer and closer to election day.”
A spokesperson for Romney issued a statement decrying the Buffett Rule — without mentioning it by name — as “a tax hike on hard-working Americans.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.