Debate Club

Reducing Spending, Not Taxing Millionaires, Is a Real Solution


President Obama hit the campaign trail with renewed calls for the "Buffett rule" last week. The rule would require millionaires to hand over a minimum 30 percent of their income to the federal government. Although the rule is supposed to increase fairness and raise a lot of revenue to narrow the budget deficit, it appears the Buffett rule is actually a campaign tactic that would accomplish neither of these goals. Instead of focusing on good policy, the president is focused on shifting the debate about the nation's deficit problem from cutting government spending to increasing taxes.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the budget and deficit.]

A millionaire's tax will not solve our fiscal problems—there aren't enough millionaires. According to the Congressional Budget Office, tax rates would have to more than double for everyone, not just "millionaires and billionaires" if we are to close the budget gap with tax increases. According to the Congressional Joint Committee on Taxation, the official authority for tax legislation, the Buffett rule would raise only $47 billion over a decade. Further, using the most recent IRS data shows that even if a 10 percent millionaire surtax were implemented it might increase revenues by only $70 billion. That is a far cry from even the $1.2 trillion deficit we face this year alone.

[Read what the Buffett Rule Gets Wrong.]

President Obama is painting millionaires as the top "1 percent" who avoid paying their fair share. However, with respect to fairness, the tax burden for the top 1 percent as a share of total federal income taxes is near its highest in decades. The top 1 percent pay nearly 40 percent of all federal income taxes, while the bottom 50 percent account for only 3 percent. For the wealthy, that's higher than it was during the Clinton years even after the Clinton tax hikes. To qualify for the top 1 percent requires an income of around $380,000. That's a great salary, but probably not what springs to mind when you hear the term "millionaire."

What we really need are solutions that decrease the nation's deficit, and the Buffett rule isn't that solution. Instead, we should reduce spending to between 18 and 19 percent of GDP, a level that matches the U.S. long-run average level of taxes collected since World War II. By addressing government spending as the true source of our problem, rather than claiming we can tax the rich as a way out, our nation can get back on the path of fiscal sustainability.

Jason Fichtner

About Jason Fichtner Senior Research Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Buffett, Warren
federal taxes
deficit and national debt

Other Arguments

-4 Pts
The 'Buffett Rule' Moves Us in the Right Direction

Yes – The 'Buffett Rule' Moves Us in the Right Direction

Chuck Collins Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies

-6 Pts
'Buffett Rule' Not a Serious Response to Budgetary Problems

No – 'Buffett Rule' Not a Serious Response to Budgetary Problems

Alan D. Viard Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute

-14 Pts
The 'Buffett Rule' Is Bogus

No – The 'Buffett Rule' Is Bogus

Andrew Moylan Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Taxpayers Union

-24 Pts
'Buffet Rule' is a Good Start

Yes – 'Buffet Rule' is a Good Start

Isabel Sawhill Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution

-26 Pts
Tax Dollars and (Common) Sense

Yes – Tax Dollars and (Common) Sense

Tammy Baldwin U.S. Representative

-28 Pts
The 'Buffet Rule' Is a Hypocritical Political Ploy

No – The 'Buffet Rule' Is a Hypocritical Political Ploy

Jonathan Collegio Communications Director for American Crossroads

-36 Pts
We Need a Tax Code That Better Fits the Values of the Country

Yes – We Need a Tax Code That Better Fits the Values of the Country

Chuck Marr Director of Federal Tax Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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