White House press secretary Jay Carney said a Senate vote next week on the so-called Buffett Rule will not be an empty gesture even if it is defeated in the upper chamber.
Carney insisted the White House goal was to win passage of the measure, but also acknowledged the vote could accomplish the political goal of hurting Republicans, something that could also lead to its eventual passage.
“One, the piece of legislation we’re talking about here on its face has broad support across the country,” he said. “Two, there is an opportunity here, because of the 60-vote threshold, to demonstrate Republicans listen to their constituents.
"That's what votes do — they put senators on record,” Carney said. “We will certainly see how senators handle that, the opportunity to vote on the so-called Buffett Rule. The goal is the passage of the resolution."
The Senate is scheduled to vote on the Buffett Rule measure on April 16, when it returns to Washington, D.C. In advance of the vote, the administration is making a full-court press to highlight legislation offered by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) that would require that taxpayers with annual income above $1 million pay a tax rate of at least 30 percent.
The rule is named for Warren Buffett, the billionaire investor who has said he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary.
Obama’s reelection campaign sees the Buffett Rule as a winning issue against Mitt Romney, the presumptive GOP nominee. Romney’s 2010 tax returns showed he and his wife paid a 14 percent tax rate on $27 million in income. Nearly all of Romney’s income was capital gains, which is hit with a 15 percent tax rate.
An email to supporters from Obama campaign manager Jim Messina on Monday called out Romney directly for opposing the Buffett Rule.
“Not only does Mitt Romney oppose the Buffett Rule, but he wants to protect special breaks and loopholes that help wealthy Americans like himself avoid paying their fair share,” Messina wrote.
Carney deflected a question about whether the White House was pushing the Buffett Rule more aggressively now that it is fairly clear Romney will be the president’s opponent.
He noted that all of the GOP presidential candidates have expressed opposition to the Buffett Rule, and blasted them for not believing “that it's not a simple matter of fairness” to ensure that wealthy Americans pay a higher tax rate.
He also said the president had been pushing for the Buffett principle long before there was a front-runner for the GOP presidential nomination.
Republicans have criticized the Buffett Rule, arguing it would hurt top-down investment and impose a serious tax increase on people creating jobs at a time when the economy remains weak.
Another longstanding argument against higher taxes on capital gains is that income invested has already been taxed, and should be treated differently from ordinary income.
Republicans have criticized Obama for playing a class-warfare game designed to distract voters from his other economic policies.
While Carney acknowledged winning passage in the Senate will be a challenge, he insisted next week’s vote could eventually set the stage for passage of the measure.
"This is a challenge because we have faced opposition [on this],” he said. “But we have also seen on a variety of occasions a willingness to back away from absolutist positions, and maybe we will see that willingness in this case."
Obama will give an address in Florida on Tuesday calling for Senate action on the measure.
The president’s campaign on Monday also launched a new website pushing to “Pass the Buffett Rule” that includes a section titled “Who’s on board” that lists former Republican President Ronald Reagan among those who are "standing with President Obama on this issue."