President Obama, undeterred by growing skepticism of the political and economic merits of the so-called "Buffett Rule," is pressing forward on his demand that Congress adopt a minimum tax rate on millionaires, arguing on Tuesday that “it’s time for us to choose which direction we want to go in as a country” and ridiculing the idea that benefits can “trickle down” to the middle class.
In a populist-tinged speech at Florida Atlantic University on a day otherwise dedicated to raising campaign money from the wealthy, the president cast next week’s congressional vote on the Buffett Rule as a choice between “another $150,000 tax break to every millionaire and billionaire in the country or making investments in education and research and health care and our veterans.”
Obama spoke on a day of stinging news coverage of the Buffett Rule, what Kirsten Kukowski of the Republican National Committee called “not a great morning for Obama’s Buffett tax.” Two of the articles cited by the RNC were in National Journal -- Jim Tankersley’s conclusion that the rule “has nothing to do with creating jobs" and Jill Lawrence’s assessment that it may not be the best way to attract independents. Other critical articles ran in The Christian Science Monitor, The Wall Street Journal, Reuters, and Politico.
But with a Senate vote expected Monday on a Buffett proposal by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., the president is determined to ratchet up the pressure on Republicans, forcing them to cast public votes for those millionaires and billionaires. That effort comes as the White House has shifted its emphasis on the impact of the rule. In September, Obama contended it “could raise enough money that not only do we pay for our jobs bill, but we also stabilize our debt and deficits for the next decade.” Now the emphasis is on fairness, with fewer promises about any real impact on deficits.
“The president -- no one -- ever suggested that implementing the Buffett Rule would contribute in large measure to reducing the deficit,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said. “The president has put forward a comprehensive deficit-reduction plan that takes a balanced approach, that includes as a principle of tax reform the Buffett Rule, but... we never suggested it would rely on the Buffett Rule to reduce the deficit by a significant measure.”
Carney insisted the fight is over “a principle of tax fairness.” He also chided reporters for suggesting that the rule is primarily symbolic. “The money we’re talking about here -- $47 billion over 10 years -- is nobody’s idea of a small amount,” he said.
In his speech, there was no retreat by the president. He called on the cheering students jammed in the school’s gym to demand action from Congress. Again, he took aim at the budget crafted by House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., contending it would force deep and damaging cuts in funding for education, school loans, research grants, science, and veterans programs.
“When I said this about a week ago, Republicans objected. They said we didn’t specify all these cuts,” said Obama. “Well, right, you didn’t. Because you knew that people wouldn’t accept them. So you just gave a big number. So what we have done is we just did the math.” He said the money to pay for the GOP budget “has got to come from somewhere. You can’t give over $4 trillion of additional tax cuts... and it just comes from some magic tree somewhere.” He added, “If they want to dispute anything I just said now, they should show us specifically where they would make those cuts.... So show me.”
With the Senate vote only days away, he implored the students to “call your members of Congress. I want you to write them an e-mail. I want you to tweet them. Tell them don’t give tax breaks to folks like me who don’t need them. Tell them to start investing in the things that will help the economy to grow.... Remind them who they work for. Tell them to do the right thing.”