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The Buffett rule and the counterproductive rhetoric that helped kill it

April 16, 2012 - Mike Maneval
The "Buffett rule" died in the Senate Monday, failing to gain the 60 votes needed to break the threat of filibuster, all to make it to the body's floor. The change in tax policy would have established a minimum tax for some wealthy Americans who pay lower rates than their neighbors who work in middle-class professions.

I am not surprised the piece of legislation failed, and at least some of the blame for its failure should fall on its biggest supporters, who missed a key opportunity for a needed evolution of their principles on tax policy. Proponents of the legislation spent their efforts pitching the change as taxing "millionaires," or the "1 percent," or "the super-rich."

But this counterproductive rhetoric lent itself to rhetoric - though perhaps more effective - from opponents: That the change would tax the hardest working and most successful.

But the law wouldn't leave an airline pilot or an engineer or surgeon paying higher taxes, because these and other such professions that require more responsibility and a greater work ethic already pay a higher earned income tax rate. Financier Warren Buffett is able to pay lower rates than many Americans in the working middle class because his annual gains in wealth largely stem from capital gains and other unearned income - not from wages or salary for a career. It wouldn't be unfair to call the Buffett rule a tax increase on usury as opposed to a tax increase on hard work. Instead, Americans heard more about the "1 percent."

While the troubles the proposal faced in the Senate come from several sources, including the intentionally deliberative structure of the body and its inept leadership in the hands of Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, a long-lingering inability of the modern left to distinguish between unearned income and earned income and a knee-jerk tendancy to engage in demagoguery when the topic turns to accumulated wealth contributed to Monday's failure.


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