Mitt Romney’s latest line of attack against President Obama’s proposal to make sure millionaires don’t pay a lower income tax rate than the middle class plays ironically on a familiar theme. It’s hardly a tool to ensure people like Warren Buffett pay their fair share, says his campaign, but rather a sort-of kickback for Buffett himself.
But that’s not quite true.
As Obama touted the “Buffett Rule” in a televised speech Wednesday for the second day in a row, Romney’s economic policy adviser Kevin Hassett delivered the campaign’s response during a morning call with reporters.
“The rule, I think, is also an example of Washington at its worst,” Hassett said. “It exempts municipal bond interests from the harsh capital treatment and you might wonder why, given that we’re calling it the Buffett Rule — I think it’s no coincidence Berkshire [Hathaway, Buffett’s firm] has been a big player in municipal bond markets.”
The proposal, on which the Democratic-led Senate is set to vote Monday, would ensure that people earning over $1 million pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. The bill’s ability to raise revenue is limited by some exceptions, including the one exempting municipal bonds. That exemption was designed to prevent city and state taxpayers of all income levels from picking up a bigger tab for loans taken by local governments.
Hassett’s implication is that the carve-out is a kickback for Buffett himself — a way for him to avoid the financial impact of his own policy namesake.
Buffett was not immediately available for comment.
Asked whether Romney would support the “Buffett Rule” if that exemption is eliminated, a campaign spokesperson did not respond.
Stan Collender, a budget expert and partner at Quorvis Communications, said the Romney campaign’s implication “sounds like total and utter nonsense and a heavy-handed attempt to change the subject.” Collender said the Buffett Rule would “require that Warren Buffett and others who earn $1 million per year pay their fair share in taxes. Does that sound like something that will benefit him financially?”
The Romney campaign’s line of attack is part of a broader effort neutralize the candidate’s vulnerabilities by projecting them onto Obama. It’s a risky strategy — one that involves picking battles on Obama’s turf: In this case, it allows the president to repeatedly tout his support for a popular economic policy.
Benjy Sarlin contributed to this article.
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.