Last night, the predictable pattern happened once again. A popular policy earned majority support in the Senate, but a minority of the Senate blocked it anyway. Last night’s vote on the “Buffett Rule” failed to reach the 60-vote threshold that is the new normal in the Senate.
Today is the due date for Americans to pay their taxes—but in many cases, the very wealthiest are paying a smaller share of their income than middle-class families. That’s because of a host of exemptions, loopholes and exclusions that tend to benefit wealthier taxpayers. The Buffett Rule would have limited the impact of those loopholes so that people earning $1 million or more in taxable income would pay a minimum of 30% on income over that $1 million. It’s a broadly popular policy principle, but Republicans in the Senate seem to take their cues from lobbyists and donors, not their constituents.
David Levine, a former investment-management economist—and a very wealthy guy—explained to the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein how he came to be paying a lower tax rate than middle-class workers. Like Warren Buffett, the Buffett Rule’s namesake, Levine thinks it’s appalling that tax policy favors people like him so strongly—and that cheap, easily-disproven talking points dominate the policy discussion around taxes. (For more on how very wealthy people and corporations avoid paying their fair share in taxes, check out the Pulitzer Prize-winning series from the New York Times’ David Kocieniewski.)
The Buffett Rule wouldn’t be all the way to building a fairer tax system—just a good step to fix a major flaw. But apparently that small step is too much for Republicans in the Senate. The rest of the country gets it, but last night voters got overruled by corporate executives and the overpaid pundits and political operatives who work on their behalf. The filibuster means the Senate won’t even debate the bill, let alone take a real vote on it.
The minority of Senators in the Republican caucus have taken their stand. They’ve shown where their priorities are, just as they did with the American Jobs Act last year—they’d rather cut programs that middle-class and working-class people depend on than ask millionaires to pay a little bit more. But among the thousands of people we talk to every week, the priorities are quite different.