Congressional Democrats vow to make taxes a defining election-year issue

Schumer said Democrats would use the tax issue to separate themselves from the GOP by showing that they are willing to raise taxes on wealthier earners to ensure that the middle class does not pay more. 

"The middle class can't bear burden of reducing deficit alone," Schumer said. 

The Senate is scheduled to take a procedural vote when they return April 16 on the bill, which would ensure that those making more than $1 million a year pay at least a 30 percent tax rate. 

"This is a great opportunity to reverse an unfairness in the tax code," Whitehouse said. "I think at the same time it sends an important signal to the public that Congress is capable of taking on special interests doing what is right," he said. 

An analysis of the nation's top 400 earners — those who made on average $270 million a year — pay an 18.2 percent rate, Whitehouse said. 

Protecting tax rates for higher-income earners is "corrosive to American democracy," he said. 

Democrats, so far, have taxpayers on their side on when it comes to raising taxes on those making more than $1 million a year. 

A poll in February found that 65 percent of those surveyed support the tax change. 

"This is going to be a defining issue in 2012," Baldwin said. 

While the Democrats said they are hopeful some Republicans would join them, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) blasted the plan even before the call started. 

“This is yet another proposal from Democrats that won’t create a single job or lower the price at the pump by a penny, but may have the opposite effect," McConnell said in a statement. 

Whitehouse said McConnell's remarks were "revealing" because instead of addressing the issue of higher tax rates, he opted to change the subject.

"That's a sign of how formidable the issue is, he has to change the subject," he said. 

"If Leader McConnell were sincere about job issues he would be calling on the House to pass the transportation bill and he wouldn't block the reauthorization of Export-Import Bank or tax incentives for the clean energy industry that protects it from foreign competition." 

Schumer argued that the $50 billion that is expected to be generated by the tax change would go into industries such as infrastructure-building that would create jobs. 

"McConnell is wrong," he said. 

The Joint Committee on Taxation (JCT) has said the measure would raise close to $47 billion between 2012 and 2022. 

Although the increase would not raise enough money to replace the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and would put a relatively small dent in the federal debt, Democrats said the figure isn't "insignificant" and it is an issue of fairness. 

In that analysis, JCT assumes that a slew of current tax provisions would expire, as scheduled, at the end of the year.

If the Bush-era tax cuts expire, the top marginal individual tax rate would rise to 39.6 percent from its 35 percent. 

Capital gains and dividends, which are now taxed at a top rate of 15 percent, would go up to rates of 20 percent and 39.6 percent, respectively, in 2013.