Why the GOP loves to hate the Democrats' Buffett rule
For Republicans, the danger in disavowing the so-called Buffett rule, a tax hike on millionaires, is that Democrats can paint them as the party that protects the rich. But they believe they can prevail with voters by fighting it. Here's why.
Republicans say they’ve seen the so-called Buffett rule before. It’s from the same playbook as Al Gore’s “the people versus the powerful” slogan in the 2000 presidential race, or even Adlai Stevenson’s 1952 promise to work for “Joe Smith, not General Motors.”Skip to next paragraph
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It’s a fight they’re spoiling for.
“Democrats are drawn like moths to the flame to class warfare arguments. They do it over and over and over again,” says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. “It always gets ‘em in the game, but it never gets ‘em across the finish line."
The rule – named for Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett, who insists that his income-tax rate shouldn’t be lower than his secretary's – would require those with incomes of more than $1 million to pay a minimum 30 percent income tax rate.
That tax increase on millionaires would raise, at best, some $150 billion over 10 years – an amount that, if every penny went to deficit reduction, would shave a bit more than 1 percent off this year's federal deficit. Republicans see that amount as piddling, and they believe they can succeed in making that case to the public – and withstand the Democrats' attack on them as the party that protects the rich at the expense of the middle class.
“Most people realize that this whole Buffett rule is merely a gimmick” by Democrats, says Mr. Ayres. “It’s a political gimmick to score political points and will have absolutely no effect on anything voters care about, especially the size of the deficit and the debt run up by this administration.”
There's some evidence that Republicans can find inroads with key voting blocs if they stay focused on the national debt, particularly.
The national debt was the most worrisome issue for independent voters who don't have a strong opinion either of President Obama or of likely GOP challenger Mitt Romney, according to a recent poll by Third Way, a centrist Democratic group.
Such "swing independents," who make up about 15 percent of the electorate, are a nontrivial and highly contested voting bloc. And while 64 percent of them reported being very worried about the national debt, only 31 percent said they were similarly worried about the rich paying enough in taxes.
More broadly, 51 percent of such swing independents favor a candidate who champions an economy that is based on opportunity, while 43 percent prefer one who makes the case for an economy based on fairness, the poll showed.
All of that said, however, these voters currently favor Mr. Obama over Mr. Romney, 44 to 38 percent, according to the Third Way poll. But Republicans see in such surveys evidence that the long game may favor them.
“We think this plan [by Democrats to tout the Buffet rule] is going to backfire, ... especially when you look at new polling showing that independents actually favor economic opportunity," said Reince Preibus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, during a conference call with reporters Wednesday.