By Bernie Becker - 04/10/12 10:00 AM EDT
Democrats are going all in on the "Buffett Rule."
Sensing an opportunity to hammer Republicans and likely GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, the White House, President Obama’s reelection campaign and other Democrats made it clear Monday that they will aggressively push their message this week that the wealthiest Americans need to contribute more in taxes.
Of course, Democrats have been lobbying for the Buffett Rule for months.
But with taxes due next week, a Senate vote on the Buffett Rule scheduled for Monday and Romney inching closer to the GOP presidential nomination, Democrats in both the executive branch and on Capitol Hill are revving up their efforts.
In a fight against Romney — who paid roughly 14 percent on more than $21 million in 2010 income — Democrats believe they are well-placed to make the case that middle-income families have been playing by the rules and still been left behind.
“For the average family, who's struggling right now, their income is going down,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) told CBS's “This Morning” on Monday. “To at least think the system is on the level, they should be paying less than the people who make the highest income.”
In addition to Obama’s Tuesday visit to Florida, Vice President Biden is headed to another swing state — New Hampshire — on Thursday to hammer home the Democratic message on the Buffett Rule.
Republicans aren’t shying away from a fight.
A Romney spokeswoman practically dared Democrats to keep pushing the Buffett Rule, suggesting Monday that it would help crystallize the differences between the two sides and underscore that Republicans were friendlier to the taxpayer.
And with gas prices on the rise and on the heels of a disappointing jobs report, House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) office labeled the president out of touch for his focus on a “political gimmick.”
“We appreciate the Obama campaign reinforcing Mitt Romney’s platform of lowering tax rates across the board in order to jumpstart this bad Obama economy,” Gail Gitcho, the Romney spokeswoman, said in a Monday statement.
Democrats reject the class warfare charge.
“This comes down to values,” said Rep. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), who has sponsored the House version of the Buffett Rule legislation and is running for Senate this year. “This isn’t class warfare.”
But it seems clear that the Democratic effort is intended to remind voters of Romney’s background, with an Obama campaign email sent to supporters on Monday explicitly calling out the former Massachusetts governor.
"When it comes to our broken tax system, Romney is proposing additional breaks for the folks in the very highest brackets (folks like him, incidentally)," the email said.
In a new report released Tuesday, the White House also argues the current tax system hands advantages to the nation’s highest earners and is economically inefficient to boot.
The administration study says that the top-earning 0.1 percent of taxpayers are paying just over a quarter of their income in taxes now — or roughly half the percentage they did a half-century ago.
It also contends the tax rate for the middle class has not moved much over that same time span, while incomes for the highest earners have increased rapidly over the last 30 years.
The Buffett Rule bill — which was rolled out in the Senate by Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) — would set a minimum tax rate of 30 percent for taxpayers making more than $2 million a year.
That rate would be phased in for taxpayers making between $1 million and $2 million a year, and the bill seeks to preserve incentives for charitable contributions.
Given the Republican opposition, the proposal is not expected to clear the Senate after lawmakers return to Washington next week.
But Senate Democrats have pledged to keep offering the bill for consideration. And after media outlets reported last week that Democrats would step up the Buffett Rule pressure on GOP senators in 13 states, Jay Carney, the White House press secretary, said Monday that this week’s focus on the issue could have an impact.
“Maybe senators will decide — those who are on the fence, or perhaps even those who have been opposed to this in the past — will rethink their position, consider the fundamental fairness of the legislation, and vote yes,” Carney said.