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GOP struggles with 'Buffett Rule'

<p>&lt;p&gt;President Obama spoke in Florida yesterday, helping make the case for the &amp;quot;Buffett Rule,&amp;quot; which is set for a Senate vote next week
Warren Buffett and President Obama in the Oval Office.
Warren Buffett and President Obama in the Oval Office.

President Obama spoke in Florida yesterday, helping make the case for the "Buffett Rule," which is set for a Senate vote next week. As Obama put it, for those "bringing in a million bucks or more a year ... you should pay the same percentage of your income in taxes as middle-class families do. You shouldn't get special tax breaks. You shouldn't be able to get special loopholes."

Republicans, not surprisingly, disagree, but they're having trouble coming up with a coherent explanation as to why they disagree. It's a simple question -- why should some millionaires pay a lower tax rate than the middle class -- that the right can't find a simple answer for.

Some Republicans have said, for example, that the Buffett Rule would bring in "only" about $47 billion, which isn't that much given the size of the budget. There's some truth to that, but given the GOP crusade against Planned Parenthood and NPR funding -- in the name of "fiscal responsibility" -- it's hardly persuasive.

This week, as Noam Scheiber noted, Karl Rove's attack operation, American Crossroads, have rolled out a separate argument.

A data point in support of the misdirection hypothesis: Rove et al have launched a Facebook petition in response to Obama's latest Buffett-Rule push, calling on Obama and Warren Buffett to "put their money where their mouths are" and pay more in taxes voluntarily. According to Mike Allen, Crossroads is launching an ad campaign to amplify that message. Suffice it to say, these do not strike me as people overly concerned by Obama's populist rhetoric, or worried about a campaign that would be fought along those lines.

Greg Sargent's reaction was the right one: "Really, it continues to amaze that people in positions of real influence could venture something this idiotic with no evident sense of embarrassment."

Well said. The Crossroads pitch is a familiar one, but its ubiquity doesn't improve its inanity.

This isn't complicated. We're a massive, modern nation with a vast economy, a large debt, and by modern standards, low taxes. We face real challenges, but they're not the kind of challenges individuals can hope to resolve on their own, piecemeal, simply by having some wealthy individuals write a check. Whether Republicans choose to understand this or not, we need cooperative solutions built around shared action.

Making additional tax contributions voluntarily -- in other words, asking for a little more only from those willing to pay a little more -- is ridiculous.

The wealthy can afford modest tax increases, which in turn can help pay down the debt Republicans pretend to care about, while shielding many of those who can least afford to take another hit.

The scope of our societal challenges is simply too great to expect a handful of individuals to make voluntary contributions to the Treasury. Instead, we need the nation's wealthy -- the whole class of them, not just a willing few -- who've benefited greatly in recent years from a system tilted in their favor, to pay a little more and accept some degree of fairness in our tax policy.

Which brings us back to the original point: the Senate vote on the Buffett Rule is next week, and Republicans still need an argument to explain why people like Mitt Romney should pay a special, lower tax rate than the middle class.