Monday, April 16, 2012

Jamaica Mistaica: The GOP and the Buffet Rule

I've got a big suspicion 'bout ammunition. 

I never forget to duck. 

Maybe you've heard of the Buffet Rule. It ought to be something about Margaritas--but instead it's Obama's lead jab. The Buffet Rule is this: Millionaires--people making 1MM or more a year--should pay what middle class Americans pay in income tax. It sounds simple. It compares Warren Buffet to his secretary (Debbie Bosanek)--however rich she really is, it pits a "common job" against one of the richest men on the planet.

That's her
And it's like that kick in the Karate Kid movies: If Do Right, No Can Defend.

At least not if you're a Republican.


What Does That Mean?
The Republicans are not happy about The Buffet Rule. For one thing? It doesn't actually help anything with the deficit
The Buffett tax would raise $47 billion from 2012 through 2022 if imposed on taxpayers earning more than $1 million, or $500,000 for married individuals filing separately, according to a March memo from the Joint Committee on Taxation, a nonpartisan body that estimates tax changes for lawmakers.
Critics note that the additional revenue would do little to tame the $1.2 trillion federal budget deficit that is forecast for this fiscal year, which ends on Sept. 30. Proponents say every little bit helps and the bigger issue is fairness.
For another thing, it hits rich people, which, if you are a Republican means job creators. Taking their money and giving it to poor people means fewer jobs, lazier poor people, and the destruction of the Republic. Or something.

But mostly? I think the Republicans don't like it because (a) rich people are a key constituency and (b) it was proposed by Democrats--so it must be bad. In any event, coming out bi-partisan to pass a bill that might as well read Obama-bama-bama-Second-Term-Love-Me is not on the GOP-controlled House's agenda. It could be a bill to end flag burning and teach cavemen-riding-dinosaurs in school (whoa! Cool!) and since it came from Obama, if it was really popular, they'd still probably have a hard time getting the freshmen to vote for it (And certainly not if Nancy Pelosi endorsed it).

So What's The Big Deal?
Huh? Oh, it's this:
Would you favor or oppose Congress passing a new law that would require households earning $1 million a year or more to pay a minimum of 30% of their income in taxes?
It polls well. It polls really, really well. Which means when Republicans talk about how it doesn't help. How Capital Gains money or whatever is already taxed. How the wealthy create jobs (just don't say trickle-down. It sounds kind of dirty) and so on? What people hear is "blah-blah-blah. SAVE THE RICH!" Since this is what (some) people are kind of afraid the GOP is going to do anyway (and Mitt "R-money" Romney isn't helping there) this is a problem.

So Obama is going to keep hammering on the Buffet Rule and the Republicans, like a punch-drunk boxer, are too ideologically blinder-ed to get their hands up.

What Is The Working Defense Against the Buffet Rule?
What should they be doing? As I am a bad-ass political strategist, I am going to tell you: pass it.

Huh? Specifically, the Republicans should tie it to some legislation they kind of want and pass the fucker. They get something--not privatized Social Security, and end to Medicaid, or a return to the Gold Standard--something small--and the Democrats get their Buffet Rule and every millionaire who doesn't like it? Contributes to the new KickObamasAss SuperPAC. It's a win-win-something.

This is because as long as they keep talking about how bad it is they are feeding a narrative that hurts them. Sometimes the only way to win is to lose. Sometimes you have to get things off the table or turn the ball over--or whatever metaphor you want--because fighting the Buffet Rule has bad optics.

It's All About the Optics
The 2012 election either will be a referendum on Obama's first term--or should be. Even if you like Obama, there is no reason people should not be voting on what they think of his current job. Maybe even, especially if you like Obama. However, so long as:
  1. The GOP congress looks like obstructionist wet blankets
  2. Romney can barely fit both feet into his mouth around his silver spoon
  3. The Base is really, really fired up to elect a garden gnome, a ham sandwich, or, you know, maybe that Mitt guy--WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET RID OF OBAMA!! I'D ELECT LOKI, NORSE GOD OF LIES IF THAT'S WHAT IT TOOK--Wait, was he Mormon? As long as that's the dynamic? 
It's not really a referendum: for you to get to the point where you can have a dispassionate vote on the issues you have to clear up "Is this guy going to take over America, leverage us to the Chinese, cut work to 24% unemployment, and retire to his offshore account where he can Scrooge McDuck in his ocean of money?" (He's done it before--I saw Newt's video!). So far, on the Buffet Rule, the optics? They don't look good.

What Do I Think?
I think that calling 'Class Warfare' on the Buffet Rule is a losing strategy. If that's class warfare, any tax that is not a flat-tax is class warfare on someone and while that might be an argument for a flat tax (which could also be cast as warfare against the poor, eh?) it's not exactly the argument Republicans are making either. 

The pincer maneuver for the Buffet Rule is getting Romney to release 10 years of so of his tax records. Apparently he really doesn't want to and, erm, that's gonna leave a mark. The best the GOP can hope for right now is that in the past 7 years there's nothing worse than we've already seen. No, he doesn't pay a lot--but hey? He gives a lot to charity. If that's all that's in there? If/when they come out? Air-ball.

But if that were true, why not do it now (you could ask the same thing about Obama's birth certificate, right?)? I have no idea what's in there--but as Mitt's father pioneered releasing Tax records as a disclosure for running for office, I have to think that Romney, releasing only one year, has stuff he'd rather everyone not see.

And with Team Obama holding a winning hand for this round of political poker, if I were Romney, I'd think the only way out was through: reveal everything, disarm the Buffet Rule, and try to take that conversation off the table.


  1. A flat tax? It sure does sound fair: Everyone pays the same tax rate. It takes just a little bit of thinking to figure out it does not work out so fairly in practice. I guess that’s what they are counting on. It is easy to say a flat tax is a good idea. Explaining how it is a scam takes many more words. Some of those words, including the Seinfeld haircut analogy can be found at this post:

    1. A discussion of a flat tax and the poor would take longer than I have here--but it's certainly true that taking money from people who are either barely making it--or not making it--is going to have severe problems.

      I do like the idea of everyone having "skin in the game" with respect to paying for government. I also like the idea of a "simple" tax system.

      Finally, a flat tax has to pay for everything and I think that's a touchy point as well.

      In any event, I'm not a flat-tax proponent per-se--but discussion of one does have some interesting ramifications on, for example, the use of the term "fairness" in political discourse.