Conrad: Obama isn’t asking for enough tax revenue in 'cliff' talks

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The four-term senator, who will retire at the end of the 112th Congress, proposed raising tax rates on capital gains and dividends from 15 percent to 28 percent, echoing the “everyone should pay their fair share” argument that Obama campaigned on.

He used the example of an individual who lives in a Manhattan high-rise but pays only 15 percent on unearned income, versus the janitor that services the building and pays 35 percent on earned income.

“That’s a 20 percent differential,” Conrad said. “I don’t know how anybody justifies that as a fair sharing of the burden in this country. When I came to the Senate the capital gains rate was 28 percent. I’ve not heard any convincing argument that we need a 20 percent differential on unearned income versus earned income.” 


Conrad also blamed Republicans for refusing to budge on new revenue, saying that some of them have gone “into an ideological ditch” with opposition that “is not fact based.” 

But the Democratic senator also said Republicans weren’t pushing for enough spending cuts, and he singled out the healthcare and entitlement programs that Democrats traditionally defend.

“On the spending side, we also have what I think has been a lack of perspective,” he said. “The Speaker is calling for healthcare savings of 3.6 percent. … We can’t save 3.6 percent? Really? We’re in a situation where 5 percent of Medicare beneficiaries use half the money. Certainly we can save 3.6 percent by doing a better job of coordinating the care of people who are using most of the resources.”

“There is a lot of room to save on Medicare and Medicaid,” he added. “We’re talking about a very small percentage of what we intend to spend in the savings being discussed.”

Conrad blasted Boehner’s “Plan B,” which will likely see a vote in the House on Thursday, calling it “an utter waste of time and a step back” from the progress made between the parties in recent weeks.

The proposed legislation is being pushed as an alternative to a broader deficit-reduction package, but it doesn't deal with extending unemployment benefits or the debt limit. 

“What I would like is a package that is far more robust that’s in the range of between $4 trillion and $5 trillion of debt and deficit reduction over the next 10 years that has more revenue and that has more savings on the spending side,” Conrad said. “I think it is passing strange that the Speaker has gone with this Plan B.

“To me it’s an utter waste of time and it’s a step back from the adult discussions that appear to be under way, and in that way it’s a big disappointment. We’re better than this … and the American people have a right to expect better than this.”