Obama campaign moves to make so-called Buffett Rule major campaign issue
President Barack Obama brought his message of "shared sacrifice" to Florida Tuesday, where he argued that passing a tax code change requiring the wealthiest of Americans to pay an effective tax rate of at least 30 percent. The Romney campaign blasts the idea and points out Obama is the first candidate in recent memory to campaign on raising taxes.
The Senate won't vote on the so-called “Buffett Rule” until next week, but President Barack Obama's administration is setting the stage to make it a key campaign issue this fall.
The rule, named after billionaire Warren Buffett, would require those making more than a million dollars a year to pay at least 30 percent in federal income tax. It's named after Buffett because he's expressed support for the idea of him not paying a lower tax rate than his secretary, which is the case today.
The White House released a report Tuesday making the economic case for the Buffett Rule. Obama also spoke at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, and the Buffett Rule was a major central focus of his remarks.
Takeaway Washington Correspondent Todd Zwillich said the rhetoric around the Buffett Rule mimics the broader rhetoric Democrats and Obama want to use against Republicans in the upcoming election.
"This vote on the Buffett Rules is just about some of the richest people in the country. This report that came out this morning ... makes a case, but really only makes a case around 55,000 or 60,000 taxpayers. Those are millionaires who do pay a lower tax rate than most people in the middle class," Zwillich said.
It's a small slice of the public, but it's carried a loud message for Obama.
"The theme is clear. He's called it 'shared sacrifice.' He's called it 'getting people to pay their share.' While it's called the Buffett Rule, at this point, let's call it what it is, (because) it's election season," Zwillich said. "This is Romney Rule. This is all about Mitt Romney."
Recent tax returns for Romney show an effective tax rate of about 14 percent, Zwillich said — right around the capital gains tax of 15 percent. Most middle class taxpayers pay about 21 or 22 percent effective tax rate.
The Romney campaign's response is that it's interesting that Obama is the first candidate in recent memory to be campaigning on a platform of raising taxes — even if it is for a relatively small slice of the population.
"They're drawing a broad brush there," Zwillich said.
Zwillich said the Obama campaign has learned a lot from the Republican presidential primary and seen the effectiveness of attacks on Romney and his wealth. On a conference call with reporters Monday, the campaign pounded that home and Zwillich said it's a theme they'll use all campaign long.
The Senate vote next week will give at least some Congressional members a chance to jump on this bandwagon as well to use in their own re-election campaigns.
While it does make for good politics, Zwillich said it's hard to view this proposal as a major influencer on reducing the federal budget deficit.
"The best score that we've gotten on the Buffett Rule, the amount of money it raises, is $47 billion over 10 years. Compare that to what you'd get by rolling back the Bush tax cuts for the richest tax bracket — that's over $800 billion (over 10 years)," Zwillich said. "So this is only six percent of that, which is not much."
Zwillich said the Obama administration really hasn't tried to make much of a budget deficit or economic health argument for this rule, choosing to focus its arguments on how much more fair it is.
"Which makes it a political case," Zwillich said.
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