The Gipper Rule

The Fair Shot-Fair Share-Fundamental Choice tour is set to crisscross the nation, President Obama admitted this week. After taxpayers paid for it to hit Florida on Tuesday, it took to the podium Wednesday at the White House, with special guest millionaires and their assistants. Obama’s pitch to pass the “Buffett Rule” has its own website, catchy title, celebrity advocates and Twitter handle. Bumper stickers and T-shirts can’t be far behind.

Polling shows the Buffett Rule — named for billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who pays a lower tax rate than his secretary — is popular. Strong majorities agree that those earning more than $1 million per year should pay a tax rate of 30 percent. A series of events to highlight a vote on the Buffett Rule that will fail in Congress next week was surely planned long ago, but kicked off immediately following the disappointing March jobs report out last week showing slowed growth is once again stalling hiring. The proposal would raise only $50 billion over 10 years and was not offered in the context of a larger tax reform plan. Yet the Obama campaign, or wait, the Obama administration, (both) claim it’s a necessary start — that the ultra-wealthy must pay their fair share after the top 0.1 percent of earners dropped from a 51 percent to a 26 percent rate in the last 50 years. Returning to 30 percent would bring top earners back to taxation levels from 1995.

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Obama wasn’t pushing for the Buffett Plan back in December of 2010, following the GOP’s Tea Party-fueled victory in the midterm elections, when he broke his campaign promise of 2008 not to renew tax cuts for anyone making more than $250,000 and renewed the Bush tax cuts for all income brackets. Last December, when the payroll tax cut expired, Obama pushed for its extension, opposing Republicans who claimed it would raid the Social Security Trust Fund. The president, daring the GOP to oppose a tax cut, argued few could make ends meet without the extra $40 per paycheck the extension would provide to pay for high gas prices and much more.

But now Obama and the Democrats are eager to force Republicans to defend tax cuts for the wealthiest earners. And Mitt Romney, Obama’s general-election rival, stepped easily into the role of foil for the Democrats’ “tax fairness” argument — he pays a rate of approximately 13.9 percent on the nearly $57,000 per day he earns in investment income from a job he had a long time ago. He won’t even release two years of tax returns. He has shipped money to the Cayman Islands and a Swiss bank account while sheltering numerous accounts of his Bain Capital holdings from disclosure. He once said the $373,000 in speaking fees he earned in one year was “not much” money.

Obama directly references Romney without naming him, saying Tuesday, “A lot of the folks who were peddling these same trickle-down theories — including some members of Congress and some people who are running for office right now, who shall not be named — they’re doubling down on these old broken-down theories.” Then, in his Wednesday dog-and-pony show of millionaires and their assistants, Obama invoked an Oval Office predecessor who also believed in tax fairness. “That wild-eyed, socialist, tax-hiking class warrior was Ronald Reagan,” he said, because Reagan said he thought a bus driver paying more in taxes than a rich executive was unfair. Obama added, “Maybe we should call it the Reagan Rule.”

Republicans call it a political stunt that won’t dent the deficit and will kill jobs. To make their case they should probably start by finding some celebrity allies, designing a logo, blanketing social networking sites and ordering up some baseball caps.