Is the Buffett Rule a political winner?

Updated

With the Senate set to consider the Obama administration’s Buffett Rule today, the Morning Joe gang discussed whether the idea is a winner – both politically and substantively – for the White House.

Mika Brzezinski read from a New York Times op-ed by the paper’s former editor – and frequent Morning Joe guest – Bill Keller, who wrote:

The problem isn’t that the Buffett Rule is necessarily a bad idea. It isn’t that “social Darwinism” is a slander on Republicans. (Heck, it may be the only Darwinism Romney believes in.) The problem is that when Obama thrusts these populist themes to the center of his narrative, he sounds a little desperate. The candidate who ran on hope — promising to transcend bickering and get things done — is in danger of sounding like the candidate of partisan insurgency. Just as Romney was unconvincing as a right-wing scourge, Obama, a man lofty in his visions but realistic in his governance, feels inauthentic playing a plutocrat-bashing firebrand. The role the middle really wants him to play, I think, is president.

Brzezinski disagreed with Keller on the Rule’s political effectiveness. “I do think the Buffett Rule is an important message that they will use as the weeks and months go by,” she said. “I think it will be effective.”

Indeed, a Gallup poll last week showed that around 60 percent of Americans support the Rule.

But Morning Joe regular, Harold Ford, a centrist former Democratic senator from Tennessee, argued that although the Rule is reasonable on its own terms, it’s not a plan to fix the economy. “It’s not going to help us grow,” said Ford. “If the issue is, we’re only going to grow if we tax people with the Buffett Rule, then I might add, Mr. Buffett, he won’t be affected by this unless you change the capital gains or dividend rates because that’s where he enjoys most of his income.”

In fact, addressing the capital gains issue and others like it is exactly what the Buffett Rule is designed to do. It establishes a broad principle that those making $1 million or more should pay at least 30 percent in taxes. Were it to pass – which it won’t, because Republicans have said they’ll filibuster it – regulations would need to be written to implement it. And as Citizens for Tax Justice has written, the most straightforward way to do so would be to end the preferential treatment of capital gains income.

For his part, Random House’s Jon Meacham argued that the Buffett Rule addresses a genuine concern about income inequality. “I think people feel that the system has gotten out of whack,” he said. “So to some extent, this is less a populist argument than a fairness one.”

 

Is the Buffett Rule a political winner?

Updated