Making the ‘Buffett Rule’ law

Tax Dept.
By DAVID SCHARFENBERG  |  February 16, 2012

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has received plenty of ink for his "Buffett Rule" legislation, named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett.

Buffett famously argued that the government should stop coddling the super-rich — allowing them to pay just a 15-percent tax on investment income, for instance, when many middle-class taxpayers pay at a higher rate.

Whitehouse's bill would, specifically, require those earning $1 million to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes.

Sounds reasonable. And President Obama gave the measure a boost this week when he called for a "Buffett Rule" in his budget proposal.

But Republicans have already cried "class warfare" and it's hard to imagine them passing the legislation anytime soon. So is this just a political stunt, designed to make the GOP look bad in an election year?

I put the question to Senator Whitehouse last week. And he insisted that he is serious about passing the bill. How? He has a two-pronged strategy.

First, gin up public support — forcing a vote, or multiple votes, in the Democratic-controlled Senate and shaming the GOP into passage.

Of course, if the bill ever made its way out of the upper chamber in the coming months — and it's hard to imagine that it would — it would surely die in the Republican-controlled House.

Enter Whitehouse's second prong: using the pressure that will descend upon Congress at the end of the year, when the Bush tax cuts are set to expire.

"Towards the end of the year, we're going to probably do a fairly significant piece of tax legislation, because I believe the other side will become a lot more reasonable as the expiration of all the Bush tax cuts looms," he told me. "And I'm going to be working very hard to make sure that this provision gets into that tax package."

Will Republicans bend? It could depend, in part, on the message the public sends with the November elections.

  Topics: This Just In , Taxes, Sheldon Whitehouse, Warren Buffett,  More more >
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