Revisiting the Buffett Rule and Fair Share

Surprising no one, the Senate failed to pass the Buffett Rule after the Republicans unleashed another filibuster. It’s not just that the Republicans block anything President Obama and his allies in Congress try to get done. This time one of their principles was at stake: the rich must be protected at all costs. Keeping in mind that the rich effectively pay less in taxes than the rest of us, the Republicans did their duty and maintained the status quo for their true constituents.

The Buffett Rule, of course, is an obvious election ploy and the essence of rich vs. poor politics. It alone cannot solve the massive deficit problem we have on our hands, and is at worst basic red meat for President Obama’s supporters. But even if you dismiss this as a lame revenue booster, you should consider it on the grounds of simple fairness.

When I say fair, I don’t mean that it’s unfair some people make more money than others, because obviously we all earn different salaries depending on the work we do. For the most part we actually agree that economic competition and different wage levels are a good thing, and being rich is valued (otherwise, why would we be jealous of rich people?). Rather, I refer to the fact that regardless of their initial tax rate, the wealthiest among us lower their tax liability thanks to loopholes that the rest of us cannot exploit. I would be willing simply to close the loopholes without touching the percentage of taxation, but of course the Republicans would scream socialism even if that were done. It seems to me that the idea behind this is to get a little more out of the rich, since their loopholes will still be in effect anyway. Since they’re going to shrug off most of the tax burden regardless of what the official rate is, the goal would be to get at least a little more out of them.

This doesn’t just make sense to me, but to a majority of Americans. Polls show consistent overwhelming support across the board for the rich to pay more in taxes. Since the vast majority of Americans are not rich, this should not come as a surprise. And with this being an election year, with an expected close race and two candidates that symbolize the classes at war, a fight over rich people paying more taxes was inevitable. I do not blame the president for picking this fight, because it was easy political calculus and goes well with his message that all of us are in this together, and that we all have to pitch in to get the economy back on track. It is also political suicide to cut popular social programs or raise taxes, so this is essentially the only feasible political option to combat the deficit.

This exercise in economic politics illustrates all that is wrong with the budget battles in today’s age. It should not matter that the Buffett Rule is political theater, because it makes sense and should have been done years ago. We are taking the Republicans to be true to their word that the deficit matters to them, and yet we do not do a double take when they refuse a measure that will bring down the deficit because it only brings it down a tiny bit. When you are unwilling to do what actually must be done to eliminate the deficit, and then refuse to do even what is politically popular, your place at the table of ideas should be forfeited. Yes, passing this tax increase on the wealthiest Americans will hardly lower the deficit, but to argue that because something helps only a tiny bit is reason enough not to do it at all is weak. After all, as President Obama has said, we have to start somewhere. I’m all for trying anything that works, and this would contribute to the solution.

 

Kerry Wakely is a fourth-year political science major. He can be reached at kwakely@uci.edu.