Senate rejects Obama-backed 'Buffett rule' on tax fairness

AFP, Tuesday 17 Apr 2012

With 60 votes needed to bring bill back to Senate, Republicans dismiss plan to raise tax on millionaires as 'stunt' aimed at dividing americans

The US Senate on Monday rejected the White House-backed "Buffett Rule" aimed at raising tax rates on millionaires, a move both sides will use as campaign benchmarks ahead of the November election.

President Barack Obama had spent much of the past week pushing the Paying A Fair Share Act, arguing it would help bring a level of fairness to the tax code as working-class Americans struggle with economic hardships.

Republicans have dismissed it as a stunt aimed at dividing Americans rather than addressing broader economic issues.

Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse, a sponsor of the bill, took to the Senate floor to make a last-ditch effort to sway Republicans, saying the Buffett rule would "end the absurd inequity in our tax code."

But as expected, the largely symbolic vote which came on the eve of tax day for millions of Americans did not go the Democrat's way.

The procedural vote went down 51 in favor to 45 opposed, largely on party lines. Sixty votes were needed to bring the bill to the floor.

According to Democrats, the measure would save at least $47 billion over 10 years.

Republicans counter that the figure was a drop in the bucket to make savings, and does nothing to create jobs or reduce the country's runaway debt.

Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell blasted the bill as a "political gimmick that even Democrats admit won't solve our larger problems."

But Democrats were keen on making a show of the disparities between America's wealthiest and the middle class, who Obama has described as bearing an outsized burden in hard economic times.

"Times are tough for many middle-class families but millionaires and billionaires aren't sharing the pain or the sacrifices, not one bit," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on the floor, as he framed the vote as a stark choice.

"Americans can build a world-class education system that will allow our children and grandchildren to compete in the industries of tomorrow. And we can ensure seniors who worked hard all their lives look forward to a secure retirement and quality, affordable health care," Reid said.

"Or we can keep protecting tax breaks for the richest of the rich. We can't do both."

The "Buffett Rule" is named after billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who has publicly spoken out against being taxed at a lower rate than his secretary -- a consequence of tax loopholes imposed by former president George W. Bush under which investment revenues are taxed at a lower rate than wages.

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