Even commentators who are not overtly partisan have internalized GOP talking points about the Buffett Rule, which will be voted on in the Senate on Monday. Politico’s Jim VandeHei is describing it as “total gimmickry” and “insanely political.” You hear this far and wide.
Okay, then. Yes, the push is partly “political.” But that’s a good thing: Voters need to be told what the parties stand for in an election year. No, the Buffett Rule won’t wipe away our fiscal problems, and No, it won’t become law anytime soon. But a political fight over it will clarify and advance the larger policy dispute that simply must be resolved sooner or later: The battle over unshakable GOP devotion to the goal of reducing the amount the wealthy pay towards deficit reduction.
Many experts think the only way our fiscal problems can be solved is through a mix of new revenues and spending cuts — which requires the breaking of the GOP’s wall of opposition to new taxes on the rich. That won’t happen unless Dems make that continued opposition politically unsustainable. A fight over the Buffett Rule could conceivably help in that regard, or, if not, could help clarify that Republicans will pay no price for refusing to budge on this central priority.
“The Buffett Rule is a symbolic fight to expose Republican extremism,” says Jonathan Chait. “If Republicans are going to defend an unpopular position, Democrats will make them defend it to its most absurd lengths.”
Case in point: Scott Brown in Massachusetts. In local interviews, Brown and his opponent Elizabeth Warren have now staked out their positions on the Buffett Rule. Brown, predictably, is against it.
“If you want to have someone raise your taxes and have more regulation, you vote for Professor Warren,” Brown says. “To raise taxes on anyone is a jobs killer.”
In my view, that’s a pretty weak argument. But whoever you agree with, voters who keep being told the deficit is a threat to American civilization as we know it deserve to hear it. They should hear Brown defend the idea that the wealthy should not chip in a bit more to avert armageddon, so the burden of doing so doesn’t fall on those less equipped to bear it. They should hear Warren’s counter-argument. The Buffett Rule fight is just a chapter in that larger debate — one that must be resolved one way or another. If we’re not going to have this argument in a presidential election year, when are we going to have it?
Pundits who deride the Buffett Rule as “political” should be asked to explain either (1) how they think the country’s fiscal problems can be fixed without more revenues from the rich; or (2) if they think those revenues are necessary, how they think Republicans can be coaxed into dropping their opposition to this solution without coming under pressure in battles like this one. Even if they are — gasp! — political battles.