Senate Democrats are turning up the heat on Republicans who oppose the so-called "Buffett Rule"—which would require many who earn at least $1 million annually to pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent—by holding a vote on the politically potent measure late Monday.
President Obama, who campaigned aggressively in swing states last week in support of the legislation, is seeking to use it as a wedge between voters and Republicans, framing the issue as one of fairness. The rule is named after Warren Buffett, the billionaire who has pushed for changes in federal tax law. Buffett, who earns most of his money from capital gains—which is taxed at 15 percent—pays a lower rate than his secretary because, like most Americans, her earnings come from wages.
Republicans, including GOP presidential front-runner Mitt Romney, say they move is politically motivated and would harm economic growth in a still fragile economy.
"In fact, the 'Buffett Tax' hike touted by President Obama has been called everything from a 'sham' to a 'hoax' to 'total gimmickry.' Why? Because it won't do a single thing to create jobs, address our debt, or lower gas prices," wrote House Speaker John Boehner in a Facebook message posted Monday morning.
But the trouble for Republicans is that while the Buffett rule and vote may be designed for scoring political points, there's evidence it's a winning issue for Democrats.
A national Gallup poll released late last week showed overwhelming support for the Buffett rule – 60 percent of respondents said they favored the tax compared to 37 percent who said they opposed it. A narrow majority of Republicans said they opposed it – 54 to 43 – compared to large majorities of Democrats and Independents who said they favored it.
Frank Newport, Editor-in-Chief of Gallup, wrote in his analysis that the results that in general Americans think that wealth distribution in the United States is "not fair" and that it should be spread more evenly.
"The current results reinforce these findings and underscore the now well-documented conclusion that Americans in general support various proposals for increasing taxes on higher-income Americans," Newport wrote.
He also acknowledged that Obama's focus on the Buffett rule is mostly symbolic, but serves to underscore his campaign themes.
"An emphasis on millionaires paying higher taxes also helps position the Obama presidential campaign against his very rich GOP opponent, Mitt Romney," Newport said.
Romney, who is worth up to $250 million, has admitted he paid an effective tax rate of about 14 percent in 2010 and 15 percent in 2011 because he, like Buffett, earns most of his money from capital gains.
The Senate vote is expected to fall short of overcoming Republican opposition Monday. But by putting the vote on record, Democrats hope to press their advantage in closely contested Senate races, as well as the presidential election.
But despite wide public opposition to their stance on the Buffett rule, Republicans do have an effective case they can make against Democrats – that they are failing on the issues that mean the most to voters.
"Americans cite the economy, jobs, dissatisfaction with government and the deficit as the top problems, while very few (1 percent) mention the gap between the rich and the poor as the top problem," Newport said.
- Read: What the Buffett rule gets wrong.
- See a slideshow of 10 issues driving Obama's re-election campaign.
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