In theory, this should have been an easy one. Democrats introduced something called the “Buffett Rule,” which would require millionaires to pay a minimum tax rate of 30%, putting their rates in line with the middle class. Given its widespread public support, it’s the kind of idea that should cruise through the Senate, especially in an election year.
After all, shortly before the vote, a new CNN poll was released showing 72% of Americans on board with the idea. A whopping 83% of self-identified moderates back the proposal, and even a majority (53%) of Republicans support it.
The Buffett Rule checks off a lot of boxes: it’s popular with voters; it lowers the deficit; it closes an unnecessary tax loophole; and it’s implicitly fair. Naturally, then, Senate Republicans killed it.
Senate Republicans on Monday blocked a move to open debate on the so-called Buffett Rule, ensuring that a measure pressed for months by President Obama and Senate Democrats to ensure that the superrich pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent will not come to a decisive vote.
But the fierce debate preceding the 51-45 vote – the Democrats were nine votes short of the 60 they needed – set off a week of political wrangling over taxes that both parties insist they are already winning. Senate Democrats intend to return repeatedly to the legislation.
It’s worth appreciating a few details about the vote. For example, the 51-45 vote means a majority of the Senate, like a majority of Americans, supported the proposal. But because the Senate is a dysfunctional mess, 45 votes trumps 51 votes. The Senate didn’t use to work this way, and it wasn’t designed to work this way, but here we are.
Also note, this wasn’t a vote on the bill; it was a vote to end a filibuster on a motion to proceed. I won’t bore you with the minutiae, but let’s not lose sight of this underlying procedural fact: Republicans didn’t just oppose closing this loophole, they voted yesterday to block the Senate’s ability to have a debate about whether to close the loophole. The Senate didn’t use to operate this way, either.
And finally, there’s the problem of Democrats coming up with a series of credible policy proposals, persuading the American mainstream that the measures have real merit, only to see Senate Republicans kill the proposals anyway, thumbing their noses at popular sentiment, confident that they’ll face no punishment from voters. It’s a dynamic that we’ve seen quite a bit in recent years – on jobs, health care, energy policy, etc. – as was discussed in some detail on last night’s show.