President Barack Obama defended his "Buffett Rule" proposal for higher taxes on the very rich Wednesday, denying it was a re-election campaign "gimmick" that will do little to close the deficit or spur job growth.
"This is not simply an issue of redistributing wealth," Obama said. "This is not just about fairness. This is also about growth. This is also about being able to make the investments we need to succeed and it's about we, as a country, being willing to pay for those investments and closing our deficits."
The president took aim at critics who say, in his words, "This is just a gimmick, just taxing millionaires and billionaires, just imposing the Buffett Rule won't do enough to close the deficit. "
He went on: "I agree, that's not all we have to do to close the deficit. But the notion that it doesn't solve the entire problem doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it at all. There are enough excuses for inaction in Washington, we certainly don't need more excuses. The Buffett Rule is something that will get us moving in the right direction."The proposal is named for billionaire financier Warren Buffett, who has said that he pays a lower effective tax rate than his secretary because the tax code treats his investment income differently than her wages. Legislation that aims to ensure that people who make more than $1 million per year pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes is scheduled for a Senate vote on Monday. Even if it passes, the Republican-led House of Representatives is sure to reject the bill.
The measure would raise an estimated $47 billion over 10 years, a drop in the bucket of government spending and debt, but Obama has made the case that it could be enough to spare some popular government programs—including financial aid for college students, scientific research and infrastructure development—that promote economic growth. Republicans have countered that the proposal will suck money out of the investor class in the private sector, which they say will smother growth.
"Sadly, an administration that promised it would focus on jobs is wasting yet another day on a political event that won't take a single person off the unemployment line," Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, said Wednesday.
"With millions out of work, gas at nearly $4 a gallon, and the election still seven months away, Republicans are calling on the president to join us in support of the dozens of jobs and energy bills that have passed the House but are stalled in the Democrat-led Senate. We should be focused on jobs and energy legislation that can pass—not tax-hike show votes designed to fail," McConnell said.
Obama has made clear that he will use the issue as a political weapon against all-but-certain Republican nominee Mitt Romney.
To underline Buffett's argument, Obama spoke to an audience made up of millionaires and their assistants.
"It's not that these folks are excited about the idea of paying more taxes—this is something I've always made clear," he said. "I have yet to meet people who just love taxes. Nobody loves paying taxes. In a perfect world, none of us would have to pay any taxes, we'd have no deficits to pay down, and schools and bridges and roads and national defense and caring for our veterans would all happen magically."
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