“This is hard political medicine,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
“There’s been a void of the Democratic voices saying how they would fix the situation,” MacGuineas added. “Paul Ryan has been out there on the right putting out the Republican specifics, and the fiscal commission has shown a bipartisan approach, but there hasn’t really been a true Democratic plan for people to rally around.”
The millionaires tax was pushed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, (I-Vt.), a socialist and a member of the budget committee. He initially called for a 5.4 percent surtax on adjusted gross incomes over $1 million, which Sanders said would raise as much as $50 billion a year.
People familiar with the Democrats’ discussions say Conrad is considering a three-percent millionaires surtax.
Sanders, in an interview, waved off criticisms of the surtax, saying its inclusion would help Democrats’ campaigns — including his own.
“I’m running for reelection, and I think this is what the American people want,” he said. ”Asking the wealthiest people in this country to contribute to deficit reduction is not only good policy, it’s good politics.”
Asked by reporters about the inclusion of the millionaires surtax, Conrad cautioned Wednesday that he could not yet say what the Democratic plan would entail.
“Nothing’s final until everything’s final,” he said. “Things that might be in a draft or were up for discussion may or may not be there at the finish line.”
Conrad, who is also immersed in bipartisan talks with the so-called Gang of Six, told his fellow Democrats this week that his budget plan would cut the deficit by $4 trillion over 10 years. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said this week that half of the reductions would come from tax increases and half from spending cuts — but experts warn that such ratios can be misleading without additional data.
Reid, meantime, has told his caucus to move cautiously before embracing any budget plan. “There are a lot of things floating around here,” he said last week. “And I told my members just — let’s not be signing onto all this stuff until we really know where we’re headed.”
An additional point of tension among Democrats over the budget was on display this week when Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Begich used a Senate floor back-and-forth to lampoon a proposal by party leaders to eliminate billions of dollars in tax subsidies for big oil companies. Oil is an important home-state industry for both senators. Reid and other top Democrats say the savings should go toward deficit reduction.
Begich accused his fellow Democrats of “going for headlines” in hauling oil executives to the Capitol this week for hearings. Landrieu called it a “gimmick” to push for an end to the subsidies.
“It’s laughable,” she said.