President Barack Obama’s proposal to enact the Buffett Rule didn’t survive long in Congress, where Senate Republicans blocked it from full consideration last week. But Democrats are sticking with the issue of economic fairness as a defining theme in this election.
Polls show that most likely voters think rich people don’t pay their fair share of taxes. And while GOP front-runner Mitt Romney is rated as highly or higher than Obama on overall economic issues, survey respondents feel that Romney — a wealthy man who fits the profile addressed by the Buffett Rule — cares less than Obama about “average people”.
Named after a suggestion from billionaire investor Warren Buffett, the Buffett Rule is part of an over-arching theme among Democrats calling for fairness in this year’s momentous budget, tax reform and deficit-cutting debates. It would increase taxes on people earning more than $1 million and set a 30 percent minimum tax rate on people making more than $2 million a year to ensure that they are not paying taxes at lower rates than middle-class families.
But is this campaign winning over voters? “It gins up the base — that is all,” says Larry Sabato, director at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. “Swing voters are not persuaded,” he said. “The real economy will determine this election.”
Lansing-based pollster Steve Mitchell, chairman of Mitchell Research & Communications, agrees. “The fairness issue will play well with partisan Democrats — the question is, how well does that issue play with middle-income voters, the ones that are going to decide the election?”
Democratic campaigners say fairness doesn’t seem to be a partisan issue in the focus groups they study. In hard-hit states, including Michigan, middle-class people across the board feel they work harder, they’re more productive, yet they’re still falling behind.
Democratic candidates say it’s not just a question of fairness. It’s hard, they say, to have a strong economy if the middle class is struggling. “This is about economic opportunity for all Americans so that everyone has a shot to do their best and succeed,” Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D – Mich., said in an email. “For too long, the deck has been stacked against middle-families with special tax breaks and loopholes for millionaires and well-connected special interests.”
Republicans deride the Buffett Rule as class warfare, cautioning that measures to wring more tax from the rich will slow job-creation while providing little new revenue. Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation estimates the Buffett Rule would generate $47 billion in 10 years.
Recent surveys show a conflicted electorate.
–A Washington Post-ABC poll in early April showed 54 percent of respondents disapproved of Obama’s handling of the economy. By a narrow margin, they thought Romney would do a better job with the economy, but rated Obama as stronger on tax issues and credited him with a better grasp of people’s economic problems by a 12-point margin .
–A NewYork Times-CBS poll in mid-April found 48 percent of respondents disapproving of Obama’s handling of the economy but 62 percent felt he cared for people like them. A whopping 77 percent disapproved of how Congress was doing its job.
A majority felt they were paying the right amount of taxes but around the same percentage, 57 percent, thought the rich were paying less than what was fair. A slight majority felt that capital gains and dividends should not be taxed at a lower rate than income earned from work.
–A Wall Street Journal-NBC poll published Friday, April 20, found respondents crediting Romney as having better ideas for the economy but lagging Obama considerably in likeability, caring about average people, looking out for the middle class, and being a good commander-in-chief.